This week brought the much anticipated launch of Pennsylvania’s government contract database. On February 14, 2008, Pennsylvania’s governor signed into a Right-to-Know-Law that effectively expanded the type of information available to the general public addressed access to this information. In a posting from February, I discussed this new law, and the promises the government made behind it. Well, the new online database is one product of this new law, which is a big step forward for the Pennsylvania government, showing they are trying to make good on their promises.
The database, also known as the Pennsylvania Contracts e-Library will be free for all users. Although it was created and will be managed by the Treasure Department, various other government agencies will be uploading their contract records onto the e-Library.
The e-Library was definitely created with consideration to the needs of the general public. Every Contract record will include a summary and links to other documents related to that contract, such as amendments. I think this will be such a great tool for everyone. Contracts can be long and boring, but with a brief summary, one can easily understand the substance of the agreement. Also, many contracts include more than just one all inclusive document because circumstances change, there could be additions, and subtractions. Creating an access to this information at one location puts some meat behind the words public access to information. One thing I have noticed in the world of public records is that just because information is required by law to be made public, it does not necessarily mean that the agency involved will make it easy for you to access it. However, I believe this new database shows that Pennsylvania is really committed to their Right-To-Know-Law.
Online contract searches can be performed using specific information such as party name, agency name, contract amount, or dates. However, searches can also be performed by keyword. For example, when I typed the word building into the search system, I was shown a list of 224 contracts related to building. The search results are concise and easy to understand. The results show the contract number, a brief summary, the agency involved and a link to view additional information about the contract. The next page then displays information relating to date, amount, contracting parties, subject matter summary, and related files. If you want to view the entire contract, there is a button that allows users to request the contact. Once the contract is requested, there is a note that says the contract will be posted on the e-Library site within five days. They e-Library is definitely user-friendly, and Pennsylvania’s goal of creating more transparency is government seems to be on a good path.