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For the last year, AxisPhilly has hosted OpenDataPhilly, a repository for public data and resources.
We’ve used some of those resources ourselves to bring you stories and tools around such issues as property taxes, campaign finance information, crime statistics, vacant land, and more. We’d like to continue and build on that work by offering occasional stories about open data and public information resources in Philadelphia — both the resources that public offices do make available and the information they don’t.
Often there are gray areas between the two: Take, for example, the city’s repository of city contract data. The city itself uses a proprietary database, called “ACIS,” to track contract information — everything from bid proposals to amendments to dollar amounts for the contract.
The public, though, gets only limited access to that information. The city’s “E-Contract Philly” site, hosted by the city’s Finance department, lists some useful information about “no-bid” contracts — contracts which may still involve competition between companies submitted proposals, but which are not necessarily awarded to the lowest bidder.
Information about who gets these contracts is supposed to be made public, presumably to avoid the appearance of and protect against impropriety — as we’ve reported in the past, some of these contracts have included firms whose owners have deep political ties (it was partly information from EContractPhilly that allowed us to break stories on politically-connected firms with contracts for work for the Sheriff’s Office).
But the most comprehensive information to be found on the site — quarterly reports on all non-bid activity — are only posted for the most recent reporting cycle. Some of the information used to write the stories linked above is no longer online.
What’s more, a phone call to Deputy Director of Fianance T. David Williams reveals that the city’s database for contracts is managed by … a contractor. Which appears to mean that the city can’t just publish the data outright.
The good news is that city Chief Data Officer Mark Headd, plans to have contract data available by the end of the month, though it isn’t immediately clear what data will and won’t be available. According to an online schedule of completed and anticipated data releases maintained by Headd, contract data should be available by October 31.
In the meantime, therefore requested, and received, quarterly reports on no-bid contract activity since 2006.
Unfortunately, they came as individual PDFs. I’ve combined them into a single file, chronologically. If any civic-minded techies out there would like to take a stab at converting these into spreadsheet format, that would be … just great.
(For what it’s worth, I tried myself, by converting the PDFs to text and running them through a scraper with OutWitHub, a scraping tool for non-programmers. The text conversion didn’t seem to work well enough to get consistent results).