This article originally appeared on The Philadelphia Tribune.
Philadelphia’s checkbook is now publicly available.
The city released a trove of data that details $4.2 billion in city payments for fiscal year 2017. A total of 238,894 individual transactions reveal payments by nearly 60 departments, boards and offices — all of which previously were not immediately available to the public.
Excluded from a detailed data set were payments that involve confidential and legal information, including those related to social services and public safety. These payments account for 3 percent of overall payments, or $200 million. However, a second aggregate data set included those figures without the sensitive information.
Mark Wheeler, the city’s chief information officer, said the yearlong, citywide effort had to overcome technical and confidentiality issues to compile the data into an easily readable and searchable format. The data, he added, will expand transparency.
“Payments data is held in systems that were never designed to be viewed by the public,” Wheeler said Friday during a press conference in the city’s Office of Innovation and Technology on Market Street.
When compiling the data, workers unexpectedly found that some payments included confidential information, said Jo Rosenberger Altman, divisional deputy city solicitor. This information had included some addresses for those in secure locations, and payments for crime awards and witness fees. It was removed from the data set.
Also excluded were salary and benefits spending, which are available through another city data set.
Users can track transactions by department and types of services purchased, as well as mine detailed data that includes date of payment, vendors and more.
Comparison between the newly released data and the fiscal budget is not accurate because payments for services are not always issued in the same fiscal year, said Catherine Lamb, deputy finance director.
The majority of city payments — $2.8 billion — went toward professional services.
The Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services doled out $1.1 billion in payments two years ago, the most of any department.
In another example, the Department of Prisons’ top 10 payments were nearly identical, $3.6 million each, all of which were paid to Corizon Health Inc. for medical services.
The city previously has released the information when asked through public information requests, known as Right to Know requests. The availability of the payment data may lead to a reduction of those requests, Rosenberger Altman said.
“Hopefully,” she said, “it will relieve a lot and give out a lot more information.”
The administration intends to release city payment data for fiscal year 2018 later this year and future fiscal year data on an annual basis.
Visit the city’s open data set at https://data.phila.gov/visualizations/payments.