Los Angeles' new city controller moved Wednesday to open city finances to far deeper public scrutiny, unveiling a website that provides new details on how billions of dollars are collected and spent.
The website, Control Panel L.A., gives users instant access to large volumes of data on the taxpayer expenditures for police, sanitation, street repairs and other services – information that previously would have taken weeks or months to obtain.
With user-friendly icons and drop-down menus, the site lets visitors download, sort and analyze data on the salaries of city employees and more than 100,000 payments to contractors. With the project's launch, Los Angeles is moving to catch up with New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and other cities that have embraced the "open data" movement to make government more transparent.
"Knowledge is power, and this initiative is providing both to the people of Los Angeles," said Controller Ron Galperin, the architect of the project, who took office in July.
The system has significant gaps, including a lack of names attached to salaries, as well as a dearth of details on the city's costly legal settlements. Also absent from the website are details on often-controversial construction projects of independent agencies that run the city's water and power systems, the Port of Los Angeles, and LAX and other airports.
Galperin, a first-time elected official, said he would fix those shortcomings and others. He said he and his staff rushed the project along to minimize resistance from city officials.
"We have an historic opportunity to make our government faster, more efficient, transparent to the public, in truly unprecedented ways," Galperin said.
Initial reaction was positive. "This is great, and the way things ought to work," said Clay Johnson, a leading advocate for data transparency in government. "Raw data is available, it's accessible to the public, and open and ready in many different formats for programmers and ordinary people alike."
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who joined Galperin at the controller's office for a press conference and demonstration of the website, said the new service will empower city residents and give them greater influence over the city budget.
"This year will be a new step not just in Los Angeles city government, but we hope it will be the example for the country in what open, transparent government looks like and what data can do to improve people's lives," he said.
Two weeks ago, Garcetti unveiled a "beta" early version of his own open-government website featuring a relatively limited set of charts and graphs measuring city performance. He pledged to expand it greatly in the future.
At Wednesday's press conference, Garcetti vowed to develop an interactive tool that would allow citizens to play at balancing the city budget online. He also said he intends to sign an executive directive instructing agency managers to gather and share more data.