openbook-1783702In 2008, around the time the Empire Center launched its transparency website SeeThroughNY, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli was moving on the same track with the creation of OpenBookNewYork. [Then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo would soon do something similar with Project Sunlight, now OpenGovernmentNY.]

The strongest feature of the original OpenBook was a list of state contracts. In a major enhancement of his site, DiNapoli just posted what amounts to the state’s checkbook register, showing payments made with our tax dollars.

The good:

  • The data are updated daily.
  • The user interface is intuitive and clean — which means you get what you want fast and easy.
  • You can download the results of your searches.

The not-so-good:

  • Missing details. Payroll, expenditure reimbursement and other “private” data has been removed. Users won’t be able to tally total agency spending because the biggest cost drivers — employee salaries — aren’t included.
  • Detail includes payee/vendor, agency, date, amount and document ID—but no indication of what the money was used for.

More on what is, and isn’t, included in the data here.

So, the good with the bad: users can easily search through all $649 million in October spending by the Department of Health, and even see where the individual payments went. But there’s no payroll and you can’t determine from the data what the individual payments are for. For example, what did the Health Department buy with 23 payments totaling nearly $1.3 million to the Research Foundation of SUNY?  Your guess is as good as ours.

But, all things considered, the Comptroller’s office has put together a really useful tool which takes another big step towards completely opening the books in New York.

About the Author

Tim Hoefer

Tim Hoefer is president & CEO of the Empire Center for Public Policy.

Read more by Tim Hoefer

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