Pa. online: Lots of data, but it’s hard to get to

Pennsylvania recently got high marks for online access to spending data, and some of its departments — environmental protection and agriculture, to name two — make a ton of information, including inspection data, available online.

But a story in today’s paper reveals not only that the state doesn’t comprehensively inspect summer camps, it also shows that state departments aren’t all on the same page when it comes to providing information online.

For example, the ag department has food safety inspections online in an easily searchable database. But if you’re a first-timer on the site, you have to be a good guesser to figure out that you first have to click ‘e-services’ to find a listing of info available online. (To me, e-services sounds like what I’d click to fill out a form requesting help of some sort).

The Department of Environmental Protection has a searchable database for all sorts of inspections, but if you can figure out how to find a list of water-quality inspections, you’ve got me beat. You can search by the name of the “client,” if you know it, but first you have to go to another page to find the client’s ID, then go back to the search page and use it to search for inspection reports.

And the Department of Health, which conducts summer camp pool inspections, doesn’t have that data online. We had to request the inspections in hard copy, and posted them here in case you want to check them out.

Yes, money and staffing are tight everywhere. And the state should be commended for getting so much information online. But now, if someone who knows how intuitive the web can be could only dig in to those websites, more people could actually find and use that information.

About Scott Blanchard

Sunday editor at the York (Pa.) Daily Record/Sunday News. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.
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