U.S. PIRG 2012 Follow the Money Study


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U.S. PIRG 2012 Follow the Money Study

  1. 1. Following the Money 2012How the 50 States Rate in ProvidingOnline Access to Government Spending Data
  2. 2. Following the Money 2012 How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data Benjamin Davis, Frontier Group Phineas Baxandall and Ryan Pierannunzi, U.S. PIRG Education Fund March 2012
  3. 3. AcknowledgmentsThe authors would like to thank the following individuals for providing analysis, editorial as-sistance, and review for this report: Gavin Baker, Federal Information Policy Analyst of OMBWatch; Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director of MASSPIRG; Melissa Duscha, Ph.D. stu-dent of Public Policy at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte; Suzanne Leland, AssociateProfessor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the Universityof North Carolina, Charlotte; and Francisca Rojas, Research Director for Transparency PolicyProject at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard’s KennedySchool of Government. A special thank you is extended to Philip Mattera, Research Directorof Good Jobs First, who gave detailed feedback about our findings on economic developmentsubsidies. We wish to additionally thank the public officials from the 47 states who took timeto provide feedback on our initial inventory of the functions on the transparency websites theymanage. Thanks also to Pedro Morillas, Legislative Director of CALPIRG for contributing tothe content of this report, and to Tony Dutzik and Elizabeth Ridlington at Frontier Group fortheir editorial assistance.This report is made possible through the generous support of the Ford Foundation.The authors bear any responsibility for factual errors. The recommendations are those of U.S.PIRG Education Fund. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do notnecessarily reflect the views of our funders or those who provided review.Copyright 2012 U.S. PIRG Education FundWith public debate around important issues often dominated by special interests pursuing theirown narrow agendas, U.S. PIRG Education Fund offers an independent voice that works onbehalf of the public interest. U.S. PIRG Education Fund, a 501(c)(3) organization, works toprotect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions,educate the public, and offer Americans meaningful opportunities for civic participation. Formore information, please visit our website at uspirgedfund.org.Frontier Group conducts research and policy analysis to support a cleaner, healthier and moredemocratic society. Our mission is to inject accurate information and compelling ideas intopublic policy debates at the local, state and federal levels. For more information about FrontierGroup, please visit our website at www.frontiergroup.org.Cover Photos: Monitor, Mbortolino/iStockphoto.com; Coins, Ventura69/iStockphoto.comLayout: Harriet Eckstein Graphic Design
  4. 4. Table of ContentsExecutive Summary 1Introduction 7Transparency 2.0 Websites Empower Citizens toTrack Government Spending 9On the March Toward Greater Transparency:A Comparison Between 2010 and 2012 16States Have Continued Progress Toward Transparency 2.0 18Making the Grade: Scoring States’ ProgressToward Transparency 2.0 28States Innovate with New Cutting-EdgeTransparency Features 37State Officials Face Obstacles and Challenges inOperating Transparency 2.0 Websites 42Continuing the Momentum Toward Greater Transparency:How States Can Improve their Transparency 2.0 Websites 45Appendix A: Transparency Scorecard 48Appendix B: Methodology 50Appendix C: List of Questions Posed toTransparency Website Officials 62Appendix D: Agencies or Departments Responsiblefor Administering Transparency Websites by State 64Notes 66
  5. 5. Executive SummaryT he ability to see how government uses progress toward “Transparency 2.0”—a the public purse is fundamental to new standard of comprehensive, one-stop, democracy. Transparency in govern- one-click budget accountability and acces-ment spending promotes fiscal respon- sibility. The past year has seen continuedsibility, checks corruption, and bolsters progress, with new states providing onlinepublic confidence. access to government spending informa- tion and several states pioneering new In the past few years, state govern- tools to further expand citizens’ access toments across the country have made their spending information and engagementcheckbooks transparent by creating on- with government.line transparency portals.1 These govern-ment-operated websites allow visitors to In 2011, eight states created new trans-view the government’s checkbook—who parency websites and several others madereceives state money, how much, and for significant improvements to sites alreadywhat purposes. Most of these websites are launched.also searchable, making it easier for resi-dents to follow the money and monitor • Connecticut, Delaware, Maine,government spending of many sorts. To- Massachusetts, Mississippi, Newday almost every state operates a transpar- Mexico, North Dakota, and Westency website with the state’s checkbook Virginia launched new checkbook-accessible to the public. level transparency websites. Among the highlights: Over the past two years, the num-ber of states that give citizens access to o Connecticut’s website excels intheir state’s checkbook has increased searchability, one of the most impor-from 32 to 46. tant elements of Transparency 2.0. The specific payments made to ven- This report is U.S. PIRG Education dors can be found through searchesFund’s third annual ranking of states’ by vendor, paying agency, short Executive Summary 
  6. 6. Figure ES-1: How the 50 States Rank in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data Grade A B C D F description of the good or service, quasi-public agencies, and track the year or amount. state’s economic recovery. o Delaware’s website brings a new • At least seven other states notably level of transparency to the state improved their transparency websites. by posting spending data, such as county government expenditures, o Michigan linked its transparency not covered in the state’s checkbook site to an interactive map that tracks expenditure data. economic development incentives, allowing residents to learn about o Massachusetts’ new checkbook tool government-funded projects in gives users the ability to monitor their county, information about how state spending in almost real-time specific companies will spend the because the data are updated nightly. funds, and the estimated number of jobs to be created. o West Virginia’s website has been upgraded to become a leader in o Washington officials launched Transparency 2.0. The site allows the state’s online checkbook after residents to browse payments to they developed a system to remove vendors, research some of the state’s data deemed private by the Health  Following the Money 2012
  7. 7. Transparency 2.0 Is Comprehensive, One-Stop,One-Click Budget Accountability and Accessibility Transparency 1.0 Transparency 2.0 Scattered: Determined residents who One-Stop: Residents can search all visit numerous agency websites or make government expenditures on a single public record requests may be able to website. gather information on government expenditures. Tool for Informed Insiders: Researchers One-Click Searchable and Downloadable: who know what they are looking Residents can search data with a for and already understand the single query or browse common-sense bureaucratic structure of government categories. Residents can sort data on programs can dig through reports government spending by recipient, for data buried beneath layers of amount, legislative district, granting subcategories and jurisdictions. agency, purpose or keyword. Residents can also download data to conduct detailed off-line analyses. Incomplete: Residents have access to Comprehensive: A user-friendly Web only limited information about public portal provides residents the ability expenditures. Information about to search detailed information about contracts, subsidies, or tax expenditures government contracts, spending, is not disclosed online and often not subsidies, and tax expenditures for all collected at all. government entities. Confirmation of Findings with State OfficialsU.S. PIRG Education Fund researchers sent initial assessments and a list of ques-tions to transparency website officials in all states and received feedback from suchofficials in 47 states to ensure that information was accurate and up-to-date. Websiteofficials were given the opportunity to alert us to possible errors, clarify their onlinefeatures, and discuss the benefits and challenges to achieving best practices in theirstate. Their comments on the challenges are discussed in the section entitled “StateOfficials Face Obstacles and Challenges in Operating Transparency 2.0 Websites.”For a list of the questions posed to state officials, please see Appendix C. Executive Summary 
  8. 8. Insurance Portability and Account- information on city and county spend- ability Act (HIPAA) and the Family ing, and tax expenditure data—than Educational Rights and Privacy Leading or Advancing states. Act (FERPA), bringing an unprec- edented level of transparency to • Lagging states (“D” range): Ten Washington’s spending. states’ online checkbooks are diffi- cult to use. Their sites rarely provide In order to assess states’ progress to- spending details for off-budget agen- ward the standards of Transparency 2.0, cies, post information on state revenue each state’s transparency website was ana- forgone through tax expenditures, or lyzed and assigned a grade from zero to link to city and county expenditure 100, based on 13 scoring criteria measur- sites. ing searchability and the breadth of infor- mation provided. (See Figure ES-1 and • Failing states (“F”): Five states are Table ES-1.) Assigning these numbers to failing in online transparency. Most more familiar “A” to “F” grades makes it Failing states have not posted their possible to describe five types of states. checkbooks online or provided other important information that allows • Leading states (“A” range): Seven residents to monitor state spending. states have established user-friendly transparency portals that contain Government spending transparency is comprehensive information on gov- not a partisan cause. As was the case at the ernment expenditures. Citizens and outset of 2010 and 2011, Democratic and watchdog groups can use the sites to Republican-leaning states perform equally monitor government spending quickly well when it comes to transparency this and easily. Among the most distinctive year. The average score for a Democratic- features of Leading states’ transpar- leaning state (determined by political ency websites is the ability to compare party of the current governor) was 70.2, state expenditures over time. while that of a Republican-leaning state was 68.9, a difference of less than two • Advancing states (“B” range): points. Among the seven states that scored Fourteen states have established an “A” or “A-” , 3 have Democratic gover- websites that are user-friendly and nors and four have Republican governors. searchable, but lack the breadth of in- Among the five states that received an F, formation characteristic of the Leading two have Democratic governors and three states. Eleven Advancing states provide have Republican governors. only limited information on the goods or services purchased because they Some states have gone above and be- do not provide copies of all contracts, yond standard Transparency 2.0 features. while eight do not provide descriptions They have developed new tools and post- on grants and economic development ed new sets of information on government incentives administered by the state. expenditures, giving residents the unprec- edented ability to monitor and influence • Emerging states (“C” range): how their government allocates resources. Fourteen states’ websites have checkbook-level detail and are easily • Performance trackers: Louisiana’s searchable, but are far less compre- Performance Accountability System hensive—in terms of checkbook detail, has taken the lead on providing  Following the Money 2012
  9. 9. Table ES-1. How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to GovernmentSpending Data STATE GRADE SCORE STATE GRADE SCORE Texas A 98 Oklahoma C+ 78 Kentucky A 96 Maryland C+ 75 Indiana A- 93 New Mexico C+ 75 Louisiana A- 92 Hawaii C 73 Massachusetts A- 92 Missouri C 72.5 West Virginia A- 91 Nevada C 70 Arizona A- 90 Colorado C- 69 New York B+ 89 Kansas C- 68 North Carolina B+ 87 South Carolina C- 66.5 Oregon B+ 87 North Dakota C- 66 Utah B+ 87 Florida D 59 Connecticut B 85 Ohio D 55 Washington B 85 Maine D- 54 Michigan B 83 Tennessee D- 51 Nebraska B 83 Vermont D- 51 South Dakota B 83 Wisconsin D- 50 Pennsylvania B- 82 Alaska D- 49 Delaware B- 81 California D- 49 Illinois B- 81 Rhode Island D- 49 Virginia B- 81 New Hampshire D- 48 Mississippi B- 80 Wyoming F 44 Georgia C+ 79 Iowa F 19 Alabama C+ 78 Arkansas F 8 Minnesota C+ 78 Montana F 7 New Jersey C+ 78 Idaho F 6 detailed performance evaluations of state benefit from government government agencies by listing spe- spending by providing an interactive cific agencies’ yearly objectives (e.g., mapping tool with the exact locations “increase the annual number of visi- of state-funded construction projects. tors served by the state park system • Statement of the checkbook’s to at least 2,500,000 by the end of fis- comprehensiveness: Some states, cal year 2012-2013”), along with their such as Massachusetts, show how actual performance. much spending is not included in• Mapping: Washington allows the their transparency sites or how much public to see how specific areas of the activity is contracted out. Executive Summary 
  10. 10. • Integration with local government the purpose of each expenditure transparency: Some states create program. In addition, only 24 states programs to actively encourage great- provide tax expenditure reports that er transparency by recognizing local include expenditure information for government transparency efforts or all of the significant major tax types sharing platforms. (sales, income and property) that may All states, including Leading states, be affected by tax expenditures. have many opportunities to improve their transparency websites. • Only 26 states include any informa- tion about expenditures or revenue • Only one state—Illinois—provides collected by quasi-public agencies or information on both the projected public-private partnerships. benefits and the actual benefits cre- ated from economic development • Only 20 states provide access to any subsidies. level of information about city and county spending, and rarely is this • Only six states provide visitors with information checkbook-level. copies of all contracts between a ven- dor and the state. • Four states—Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, and Montana—have yet to post their • Only six states provide copies of tax checkbooks online. expenditure reports that include  Following the Money 2012
  11. 11. IntroductionG overnment budgets are the most the entity receiving the payment and the concrete expression of public val- payment amount.2 ues and priorities—articulated indollars and cents. As states grapple with Soon after the federal spending websitedifficult decisions to make budgetary ends was launched in December 2007, publicmeet, opening the state checkbook to the interest advocacy groups, citizens and statepublic provides an important tool that decision-makers across the country startedallows both citizens and civil servants to asking why the states didn’t have similarmake informed choices. websites to show state payments made to vendors.3 If information technology had Up until a few years ago, most citizens advanced to the point where people couldwere in the dark about how the govern- download their personal checkbooks, payment spent taxpayer dollars. Journalists, bills electronically, and purchase productswatchdog groups, and the most persis- on their smart phones, why shouldn’t peo-tent citizens could find expenditure data ple be able to use the internet to view howthrough official information requests or the state spends their tax dollars?by exploring the nooks and crannies ofcertain government websites, but for the In response, states one by one beganmost part, Americans’ knowledge of gov- opening their online checkbooks to theernment spending was limited to what public. These pioneer states created athey heard on the news. standard for online government spending— sometimes called Transparency 2.0—that Then in 2006, Congress passed the set the benchmark for states’ online check-Federal Funding Accountability and book sites to be comprehensive, one-stopTransparency Act (FFATA), which in- and one-click searchable.structed the Office of Management andBudget to shine a light on federal spend- In 2009, federal laws further pusheding by creating a single searchable website Transparency 2.0 forward by requiringof federal awards, including the name of every state to place American Recovery Introduction 
  12. 12. and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) spending important pieces of government spending. online, including contract and subcontract expenditures. These laws gave states re- This is the third annual report in U.S. sources to develop spending transparency PIRG Education Fund’s series that assesses platforms, as well as personnel expertise each state’s online transparency. While and an orientation toward ratcheting up many states have made progress in the transparency. past year, such as launching their transpar- ency websites for the first time, additional Since then, online transparency has con- progress still needs to be made, such as tinued to grow. From 2010 to 2012, the expanding spending data to include off- number of states disclosing their check- budget expenditures. This report reviews books online increased from 32 to 46. In both the progress made over the past year addition, states have made their transparen- and the road ahead in expanding online cy websites user-friendly and posted other government transparency.  Following the Money 2012
  13. 13. Transparency 2.0 Websites Empower Citizens to Track Government SpendingP ractically speaking, public informa- broad and detailed. In contrast to states tion isn’t truly accessible unless it’s with “Transparency 1.0” levels of disclosure online. Government spending trans- and public access—which may offer onlyparency websites that meet the standard of partial information about government“Transparency 2.0” give citizens and gov- contracts online—leading Transparencyernment officials the ability to monitor 2.0 states provide user-friendly searchesmany aspects of state spending—saving on a comprehensive range of current andmoney, preventing corruption, and en- historical government expenditures, in-couraging the achievement of a wide vari- cluding detailed information about gov-ety of public policy goals. ernment contracts with private entities, subsidies, spending through the tax code, and transactions by quasi-public agencies: • Contracts with private companies: Some government agencies spend well over half their budgets on out-Transparency 2.0 Websites side contractors.4 These contractorsGive Users Detailed are generally subject to fewer publicInformation on accountability rules, such as sunshine laws, civil service reporting require-Government Expenditures ments, and freedom of informationWebsites that meet Transparency 2.0 stan- laws. To monitor spending on contrac-dards offer information on government tors, it is important that states provideexpenditures that is comprehensive, one- comprehensive online transparency forstop and one-click. all contract spending.Comprehensive • Subsidies: State subsidies take theTransparency websites in the leading states form of grants, economic develop-offer spending information that is both ment incentives, and other spending Transparency 2.0 Websites Empower Citizens 
  14. 14. through the tax code.5 Unmeasured, to perform a particular service or a the performance of subsidies remains set of public functions. They operate unmanaged and unaccountable. When on the federal, state and local levels, it comes to economic development providing services such as waste man- subsidies, state and local governments agement, toll roads, water treatment, allocate an estimated $50 billion each community development programs year to specific entities with the intent and pension management. Quasi- to create jobs and spur growth, yet public agencies have extraordinary most governments still don’t disclose control over their budgets and are not full information on these expendi- directly governed by elected officials. tures and their outcomes.6 Leading Because quasi-public agencies typi- states allow citizens to measure the cally collect fees or some other form performance of these incentives by of their own revenue, they do not rely listing the companies or organizations solely, or often even significantly, on that receive economic development an annual appropriation from the leg- subsidies and explaining what public islature. Their expenditures therefore benefits companies were expected to fall outside the “official” state budget, provide and delivered.7 “Tax expen- so the public can only occasionally ditures” is the more general term for scrutinize their expenditures. A Mas- subsidies bestowed through the tax sachusetts study, for instance, identi- code in the form of special tax ex- fied 42 such off-budget agencies in emptions, credits, deferments and the state with annual revenues equal preferences. Tax expenditures have to roughly a third of the entire official the same bottom-line effect on state state budget.9 Leading states post budgets as direct state spending, since spending information about revenues they must be offset by cuts to other and expenditures by quasi-public programs or by raising other taxes. agencies. Once created, tax expenditures often escape oversight because they do not • Leases and concessions to private appear as state budget line items and companies: States have sometimes rarely require legislative approval to sold or leased to private companies renew. For these reasons, spending the right to construct or operate a through the tax code is in particular public asset or service in return for need of disclosure. Leading states the right to collect and retain user fees provide transparency and account- from the public. These arrangements ability for tax expenditures, usually are most common for toll roads, by linking their transparency portal garages, prisons, parking meters and to a tax expenditure report, which is water systems. They have also become a detailed list of the state’s tax credits, more common at state parks and in deductions and exemptions with the the operation of fee-collecting ser- resulting revenue loss from each. vices such as motor vehicle licensing. In these “public-private partnerships,” • Quasi-public agencies: Over time transparency mechanisms can en- quasi-public agencies have delivered hance public scrutiny in lieu of other a growing share of public functions.8 standard public protections such as Quasi-public agencies are independent civil service, conflict-of-interest, and government corporations that are freedom of information rules.10 created through enabling legislation10  Following the Money 2012
  15. 15. One-Stop loans, equity investments, contributionsTransparency websites in leading states of property or infrastructure, reductionsoffer a single website from which citizens or deferrals of taxes or fees, guarantees ofcan search all government expenditures. loans or leases, and preferential use of gov-With one-stop transparency, residents ernment facilities—and are administeredas well as local and state officials can ac- by a variety of government agencies.cess comprehensive information on directspending, contracts, tax expenditures and Placing all data about governmentother subsidies in a single location. subsidies on a single website can uncover waste and highlight opportunities for sav- One-stop transparency is particularly ings. For example, when Minnesota beganimportant for public oversight of subsi- to require agencies to submit reports on thedies. Subsidies come in a dizzying variation performance of subsidized projects, the re-of forms—including direct cash transfers, ports revealed that numerous projects were Transparency 2.0 Is Comprehensive, One-Stop, One-Click Budget Accountability and Accessibility Transparency 1.0 Transparency 2.0 Scattered: Determined residents who One-Stop: Residents can search all visit numerous agency websites or make government expenditures on a single public record requests may be able to website. gather information on government expenditures. Tool for Informed Insiders: Researchers One-Click Searchable and Downloadable: who know what they are looking Residents can search data with a for and already understand the single query or browse common-sense bureaucratic structure of government categories. Residents can sort data on programs can dig through reports government spending by recipient, for data buried beneath layers of amount, legislative district, granting subcategories and jurisdictions. agency, purpose or keyword. Residents can also download data to conduct detailed off-line analyses. Incomplete: Residents have access to Comprehensive: A user-friendly Web only limited information about public portal provides residents the ability expenditures. Information about to search detailed information about contracts, subsidies, or tax expenditures government contracts, spending, is not disclosed online and often not subsidies, and tax expenditures for all collected at all. government entities. Transparency 2.0 Websites Empower Citizens  11
  16. 16. receiving assistance from two or more funding sources—that is, Minnesota tax- Transparency 2.0 Makes payers were sometimes double- and triple- Government More Effective paying for the creation of the same jobs. and Accountable After the centralized publication of those States with good transparency websites reports, the double-dipping stopped.11 have found that these sites result in a wide variety of benefits for state residents and One-Click Searchable and the government. Transparency websites Downloadable have helped governments find ways to Transparent information is only as useful save money and meet other public policy as it is easily accessible, which means eas- goals. ily searchable. Transparency websites in the leading states offer a range of search Transparency websites save money. Trans- and sort functions that allow residents to parency 2.0 states tend to realize signifi- navigate complex expenditure data with a cant financial returns on their investment. single click of the mouse. In Transparency The savings come from sources big and 1.0 states, residents who don’t already small—more efficient government admin- know what they are searching for or where istration, less staff time spent on infor- to look will tend to get stymied by inscru- mation requests, and more competitive table layers of subcategories, jurisdictions bidding for public projects, to name just a and data that can’t be readily compared. few—and can add up to millions of dollars. Transparency 2.0 states, by contrast, allow The biggest savings may be the hardest residents to browse information by recipi- to measure: the potential abuse or waste ent or category, and to make directed key- that is avoided because government of- word and field searches. ficials, contractors and subsidy recipients know the public will be looking over their Citizens who want to dig deeper into shoulder. government spending typically need to download and analyze the data in a spread- Transparency websites often help states sheet or other form. Downloading data- realize significant benefits by identifying sets can also give residents the ability to and eliminating inefficient spending: aggregate expenditures—for a particular company, agency or date, for instance—to • In Texas, the Comptroller was able see patterns or understand total spending to utilize the transparency website in amounts that might otherwise be lost in a its first two years to save $4.8 million sea of unrelated data. Leading states en- from more efficient administration.12 able citizens to download most or all of the most important information on their • Once South Dakota’s new transparency transparency websites. website was launched, an emboldened reporter requested additional informa- tion on subsidies that led legislators to save about $19 million per year by eliminating redundancies in their eco- nomic development program.13 • Once Utah’s transparency website revealed that the state government was spending $294,000 on bottled water12  Following the Money 2012
  17. 17. every year, the state reduced its annual • Since the launch of Delaware’s trans- bottled water expenditure to approxi- parency website, the Department of mately $85,000.14 Finance has reported a “significant reduction” in Freedom of Information Transparency websites also save mil- Act (FOIA) requests, saving valuablelions by reducing the number of costly staff time.19information requests from residents,watchdog groups, government bodies and Transparency websites also save statescompanies: money by increasing the number of com- peting bidders for public projects. For ex-• Massachusetts’ procurement web- ample, in 2011, Massachusetts reported site has saved the state $3 million by that by posting information on state con- eliminating paper, postage and print- tracts and bidding opportunities through ing costs associated with information the state’s checkbook-level procurement requests by state agencies and paper- website, Comm-Pass, bids for transpor- work from vendors. Massachusetts has tation projects funded by Recovery Act saved money by reducing staff time for funds came in 15-20 percent below the public record management, retention, state’s initial estimate.20 provision, archiving and document destruction.15 Transparency websites also save states money by enabling them to identify oppor-• In Utah, the State Office of Education tunities to cut costs by renegotiating con- and the Utah Tax Commission save tracts. For example, Texas was able to re- about $15,000 a year from reduced negotiate its copier machine lease to save information requests. These are only $33 million over three years. The state two of the more than 300 govern- was also able to negotiate prison food ment agencies in the state, suggesting contracts to save $15.2 million.21 that Utah’s total savings are likely far greater.16 Online transparency offers increased support for a range of other public policy goals, including• South Carolina has seen one-third as promotion of community investment and affir- many open records requests as it had mative action goals. Governments often stum- prior to the creation of its transparency ble when trying to meet community invest- website, significantly reducing staff ment and affirmative action goals because time and saving an estimated tens of managers struggle to benchmark agencies, thousands of dollars. spread best practices, or identify contractors who advance these goals. Online transpar-• Every information request resolved by ency portals allow states to better measure Mississippi’s transparency website rather and manage the progress of such programs. than by a state employee saves the state For example, transparency websites allow approximately $750 in staff time.17 agencies to identify minority- or woman- owned companies that have done business• It is estimated that Kentucky’s website with other agencies across the state. Other eliminates 40 percent of the adminis- agencies can then look to those contractors trative costs of procurement assistance in helping to meet their own goals. requests, and could reduce the costs as- sociated with open records requests by Online transparency costs little. The ben- as much as 10 percent.18 efits of transparency websites have come Transparency 2.0 Websites Empower Citizens  13
  18. 18. with a surprisingly low price tag, both their existing budgets. For websites that for creating and maintaining the web- required a special appropriation or ear- sites. Several states—including Delaware, mark, the cost is usually beneath $300,000 Georgia, Ohio, and Oregon—created and to create the website and even less to keep update their websites with funds from it updated. (See Table 1.)14  Following the Money 2012
  19. 19. Table 1: Cost to Create and Maintain a Transparency Website22 State Start-Up Costs Annual Operating Costs Alabama $125,000 Less than $12,000 Alaska $5,000 “Nominal” Arizona $72,000, $90,000 plus existing staff time California $21,000   Colorado $200,000 $169,400 from existing budget from existing budget, plus existing staff time Connecticut $13,000 Existing budget Delaware Existing budget Existing budget Florida Existing budget   Georgia Existing budget Existing budget Iowa Less than $75,000 $6,000 Kansas $150,000 Existing budget from existing budget Kentucky $150,000   Louisiana $325,000 “Minimal” Maryland $65,000 $5,000 Massachusetts $540,00023 Michigan Existing budget   Minnesota Existing budget   Mississippi $2,200,00024 $400,000 (including operation of ARRA website) Missouri $293,140 from existing budget   Nebraska $30,000-$60,000 $10,800 Nevada $78,000 $30,000 New Mexico $230,000 $125,000 New York Existing budget   North Carolina $624,000 $80,600 for both transparency and ARRA websites North Dakota $231,000 $30,000 Ohio Existing budget Existing budget Oklahoma $8,000, plus existing staff time   Oregon Existing budget Existing budget Pennsylvania $372,000   Rhode Island Existing budget   South Carolina $30,000 in existing staff time Existing staff time South Dakota Not tracked (nominal) Existing budget Tennessee Existing budget   Texas $310,000 Existing budget Utah $192,800, $133,400 plus existing staff time ($100,000) Virginia $500,000 $400,000 Washington $300,000   West Virginia Existing budget   Wyoming $1,600Note: Some costs are approximations; many “Annual Operating Costs” are blank because costs are minimal; funds for many websites forwhich states provided specific costs (as opposed to “existing budget”) came from the existing budget as opposed to an separate appro-priation; to see a list of agencies or departments responsible for administering the transparency website in each state, see Appendix D. Transparency 2.0 Websites Empower Citizens  15
  20. 20. On the March Toward Greater Transparency: A Comparison Between 2010 and 2012 T ransparency is on the march. From unprecedented transparency to state Washington to Mississippi to Maine, expenditures. From the beginning of 2010 states are improving their transpar- to the beginning of 2012, the number ency websites to allow citizens to search of states that provide each transparency and view checkbook-level data on govern- feature highlighted in this report has ment expenditures quickly and easily. grown substantially. The number of states that provide some features, such as data These improvements, combined on municipal spending, has doubled. (See with the progress made in 2010, bring Figure 1.) Figure 1: The Number of States that Provide Transparency 2.0 Features Has Grown Rapidly25 Note: the feature names in the graph are shortened names of the criteria in the scorecard: “Checkbook” refers to “Checkbook-Level Website”; “Searchable” refers to both “Search by Vendor” and “Search by Keyword or Activity”; “Subsidies refers to “Grants and Economic Development Incentives” awarded to private entities; “Tax Spending” refers to “Tax Expenditure Reports”; “Quasis” refer to quasi-public agencies, assessed in the “Off-Budget Agencies” criterion; “Local Budgets” refers to “City and County Budgets”; “ARRA Funding” is listed in the scorecard as “ARRA Funding.” For explanation of the grading criteria, see Appendix B. Also note that 21 websites considered “searchable” in 2010 does not include New Jersey because the website was not checkbook-level in 2010.16  Following the Money 2012
  21. 21. Figure 2: Top 10 Most Improved TransparencyWebsites from 2011 to 2012 26S everal states dramatically improved their online budget transparency in the past year. The states with the largest gains either created new transparencyportals or made major improvements to their existing ones. Washington andWest Virginia both saw the largest improvement of 63 points. In order, the stateswith the highest increase in score from last year are as follows:Note: although all these states made improvements to their websites, in some cases theincrease in grade also reflects changes in the grading criteria. (See page 30.) On the March Toward Greater Transparency  17
  22. 22. States Have Continued Progress Toward Transparency 2.0 O ver the past year, eight states cre- governor in June 2010, it instructed the ated new transparency websites and Office of Fiscal Analysis to make state ex- several others improved their trans- penditures, including contracts and grants, parency sites by consolidating important available online by mid-2011.29 spending information, posting new data- sets on government spending, or making A year and a half after the passage of the site more user-friendly. Public Act No. 10-155, the Office of Fis- cal Analysis has created an intuitive and user-friendly transparency website. The layout is understandable to an ordinary Connecticut citizen—visitors do not need to be tech-savvy budget experts to navi- Eight States Launch New gate the site. The left side of the screen Transparency Websites includes clear links for the various kinds of Over the past year, Connecticut, Delaware, payments made by the state (e.g., “Con- Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New tracts,” “Grants,” “Compensation”) and Mexico, North Dakota and West Virginia the right side prompts users with simple launched new transparency websites. search criteria (e.g., “2010” or “2011”) to begin searching through Connecticut’s ex- penditures and payments. (See Figure 3.) Connecticut Launches User-Friendly Website The Office of Fiscal Analysis has been In mid-2010, the Connecticut state legis- proficient in making the data searchable, lature passed a bill to create their state’s one of the most important elements of first ever transparency website, transparency. Transparency 2.0. On transparency.CT.gov, CT.gov.27 The law, Public Act No. 10-155, the specific payments made to vendors can passed with unanimous consent from be found by searching for the vendor, the both Democrats and Republicans in both paying agency, the category of the good or the Senate and House.28 Signed by the service, the year or the amount.18  Following the Money 2012
  23. 23. Figure 3: Connecticut’s Transparency Website is Understandable to the OrdinaryConnecticut Citizen In 2012, the Office of Fiscal Analysis gave visitors the ability to browse stateshould build on the momentum created by payments to vendors from executive agen-the site’s launch and provide more detailed cies, but it fell short of many other Trans-information on the goods and services pur- parency 2.0 benchmarks, leaving visitorschased. Residents are currently in the dark unable to learn about local governmentover the specific nature of goods or services spending, tax expenditures, economic in-purchased because the website uses vague centives, and recovery spending.descriptions, such as “Client Services-General” and “Equipment Lease/Rental- Transparency Resources brings a new levelOther” to describe the payments made to of transparency to Delaware by providingvendors. To provide greater transparency, expenditure data previously unavailablethe website should be upgraded to provide through the pre-existing online checkbookdetailed descriptions and complete copies platform. Transparency Resources’ inventoryof contracts. of datasets and tools catalogs many differ- ent aspects of state spending, and allows users to monitor and comment on gov-Delaware Gives Residents a ernment proceedings as well as researchOne-Stop Place to Find State pertinent laws and legal issues.Spending DataOver the past year, Delaware created a Transparency Resources brings togethernew site called Transparency Resources, information from many sources, givingand incorporated the state’s pre-existing residents a one-stop place to find publiconline checkbook into the new site. Del- spending information. The online check-aware’s pre-existing online checkbook book and state budget proposal come from States Have Continued Progress Toward Transparency 2.0  19
  24. 24. the Office of Management and Budget; the website provides timely and detailed state procurement data from Government Sup- spending information to Massachusetts port Services; and county financial reports residents. The checkbook tool gives us- from county governments. ers the ability to monitor state spending in almost real-time because the data are updated nightly. Also, while residents last Maine Opens the State’s year could only monitor state spending Checkbook for Some Past Years through the limited procurement website, In the past year, Maine’s Office of the State Comm-PASS, the new website gives users Comptroller took some initiative to open the ability to monitor and review spend- Maine’s checkbook to the public. In prior ing from many different departments and years, information on Maine’s spending agencies including the legislature, judi- was only available to registered vendors ciary, governor’s office, attorney general, doing business with the state. Then in treasurer, district attorney, sheriff and January 2012, the Comptroller’s office many agencies within the Department compiled datasets and reports already in of Transportation. In addition, the Open existence into a portion of their website Checkbook provides advanced tools to en- built to share data with the public. able instant drill downs for more detailed information, allows for complex searches Although visitors can now view some and sorts across the entire database, and state spending data, they are limited and offers a “hover over” feature that explains difficult to access. The most recent ven- terminology, context and spending. dor-specific data are from 2009, and all spending data can be accessed only by Massachusetts Transparency also posts downloading an Excel spreadsheet. In Tax Expenditure Budgets dating back to 2012, Maine should make spending data 2000, allowing residents to monitor the more comprehensive by compiling and government revenue lost through tax posting the vendor-specific expenditures expenditures over time. from 2010, 2011 and 2012, and Maine should make the data more accessible by Mississippi Diversifies Its Online introducing search tools. State Spending Data Over the past year, Mississippi launched a new transparency website called Trans- Massachusetts Expands Its parency Mississippi, operated by the De- Checkbook-Level Expenditures partment of Finance and Administration. Available to the Public Transparency Mississippi incorporates the In December 2011, Massachusetts Gover- high level of detail on vendor payments nor Deval Patrick, Treasurer Steve Gross- (Mississippi is one of six states that provide man and Comptroller Martin Benison copies of all contracts) previously available launched Open Checkbook, a comprehen- through Merlin­—the website graded in last sive, easy-to-use online checkbook, and an year’s Following the Money report—into a addition to the new Massachusetts Trans- user-friendly portal that includes a variety parency website. The Open Checkbook tool of other spending data. was in part a result of the legislature’s pas- sage of online transparency requirements For visitors, Transparency Mississippi is included in the FY2011 state budget.30 easy-to-use, intuitive and comprehensive. The self-explanatory icons link to interac- Now, the Massachusetts Transparency tive tools that prompt users to begin their20  Following the Money 2012
  25. 25. search. Users can browse through the website was a contract database that, al-state’s spending, budget, leases and more. though it had checkbook-level detail, was not designed to be accessed by the greater One addition from last year is infor- public to shed light on the state spending.mation on grants. Although the “Grants” For example, expenditure data were nottool lists only grants exchanged between searchable by purchasing agency. Sunshinegovernment entities, the “Expenditure” Portal boosts New Mexico’s online trans-tool lists the payments made to vendors parency by catering to the general publicthrough a variety of grant types—Forestry and making more spending informationResources Grants, Law Enforcement As- available.sistance Grants, grants from the Depart-ment of Human Services, and others. A highlight of New Mexico’s checkbook is that it is designed for both the average In the next year, the Department of New Mexico citizen who wants to peruseFinance and Administration should improve government spending, and for the com-the transparency website to make even pany, government official, or watchdogmore data available to Mississippi residents. group searching for a specific payment.Currently Mississippians cannot use the The average New Mexican can search bytransparency portal as a tool to monitor and companies’ names, government depart-assess the effectiveness of tax breaks and ments, or easy-to-understand categoriesother economic development incentives. (e.g., “animals,” “Medical Services,” andTo upgrade Transparency Mississippi, the “Grants to Individuals”), while the com-Department of Finance and Administration pany, government official or watchdogshould include reports on tax expenditures, group can search by the identificationwhich the state already produces, and numbers for the vendor, contract or pur-reports on public benefits achieved as a chase order.result of development incentives. Although Sunshine Portal makes infor- mation available on the state’s payments toNew Mexico Makes Its New vendors through contracts and purchaseWebsite Accessible to the orders, the site does not make available in-General Public formation on the state’s spending throughThis past year, New Mexico launched a tax exemptions, credits and deductions.new transparency website called Sunshine Making tax expenditure data accessiblePortal that is comprehensive and designed in New Mexico is important to the state’sto be accessed by the public. Sunshine transparency efforts because the state’s 300Portal is welcoming and user-friendly. In- tax expenditures cost the government $1.3structions on the main page explain the billion annually—7 percent of the state’spurpose of Sunshine Portal and prompt budget.31 Tax expenditure data are notusers to search through the government’s available on Sunshine Portal in part becausefinances. Most pages have a sidebar on the the government does not produce regularleft that explains the page, provides a glos- tax expenditure reports, one of only sev-sary for ambiguous terms, and offers help- en states that fail to do so.32 However,ful links. in August 2011, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez ordered a review of the When New Mexico’s online transpar- state’s tax incentives to produce the state’sency was assessed previously in Following first tax expenditure report.33 To empowerthe Money 2011, the state’s “transparency” citizens with the ability to monitor state States Have Continued Progress Toward Transparency 2.0  21
  26. 26. spending on tax expenditures, the execu- (See Figure 4.) TransparencyWV brings tive branch should carry out the executive a new level of transparency to govern- order in a timely manner and make the re- ment finances and has pushed West Vir- port accessible on Sunshine Portal. ginia to become a leader in Transparency 2.0. TransparencyWV allows residents to North Dakota Opens the browse the payments West Virginia has given to vendors, research some quasi- State’s Checkbook public agencies, and track the state’s use of In 2009, North Dakota’s Legislative As- federal economic recovery funds. sembly passed a bill calling for the state’s first-ever transparency website, and in Before the launch of TransparencyWV, March 2011, under the auspices of the Of- West Virginians had to rely on the Depart- fice of Management and Budget, the site ment of Administration’s Purchasing went live.34 The website brings an unprec- Division site for information on state edented level of transparency to North spending. The goal of the Purchasing Dakota by posting the state’s checkbook. Division’s site was to connect state agen- However, the site has room for improve- cies with companies that would supply ment because it still lacks several features them with goods or services for a pre- common in Transparency 2.0. determined price, not to shine a light on state spending. For example, if a school The highlight of the website is its district needed to rent a van for a field checkbook. Visitors can browse the pay- trip, they would use the Purchasing Di- ments made to vendors based on the ven- vision’s site to determine that they could dor’s name, purchasing agency or govern- rent a 12-passenger van from Hertz for ment account. The checkbook is updated $74 per day.36 The site did not give West monthly, and even though the site is new, Virginia residents checkbook-level details the administrators have posted expendi- over the payments made to vendors, but ture information back to July 2007.35 rather the cost of certain goods and ser- vices a state agency could purchase with Beyond the website’s checkbook, the site prior approval. lacks many other Transparency 2.0 features, giving North Dakota residents a limited A notable feature of TransparencyWV view of government spending. Visitors are is the detailed information it contains on in the dark on the funds spent on tax expen- economic development incentives. The ditures, the effectiveness of economic devel- site links to the state’s Tax Credit Review opment subsidies, and funds spent at the city and Accountability Reports, which provide and county level. Over the next year, North details on manufacturing, research and Dakota should build on the momentum cre- other credits. For example, residents can ated by the site’s launch and expand its trans- learn that from 2003 to 2006, 272 tax- parency site to enable residents to view all filing entities claimed the Manufacturing aspects of government spending. Investment Tax Credit, designed to build new industries and expand and revitalize West Virginia Becomes a Leader existing ones, which cost the state $2.4 in Transparency 2.0 million and, according to the state, created In August 2011, the State Auditor’s office 2,000 new jobs.37 Although the data launched TransparencyWV, a new site de- contained within the Tax Credit Review signed to educate the public about the gov- and Accountability Reports allow citizens ernment’s revenue, budget, and spending. to view these state tallies about entire tax22  Following the Money 2012
  27. 27. Figure 4: West Virginia Becomes a Leader in Transparency 2.0 with New Website38credit programs, they do not yet providecitizens with the ability to scrutinize Several States Madeclaims on job creation or other benefits for Improvements andspecific companies receiving tax credits. Additions to TheirThe next iteration of the report shouldprovide company-specific information— Existing Websitesthe subsidy amount, intended number of Several states have made sizable improve-jobs created, and actual number of jobs ments to their websites in 2011. Somecreated—so citizens can better evaluate states—such as Michigan, New Hamp-the effectiveness of companies using the shire, and Washington—created new toolsincentives to grow the economy. to open the books on different aspects of state spending. Other states—such as Illi- Despite the greater level of transpar- nois, Nebraska, New York and Utah—haveency the website brings to West Virginia’s improved their websites by consolidatingspending, state officials should further important spending information from dif-open the state’s checkbook to the public by ferent state agency websites.posting contracts for all goods and servic-es purchased. Currently, the website does Michigan Provides Details onnot provide a detailed description of thegoods and services purchased, and as long Economic Development Incentivesas this information remains unavailable, In the past year, Michigan linked an inter-citizens will be unable to assess whether a active map tool to its transparency web-certain procured good or service is worth site to allow users to monitor economicthe cost. development incentives. During Governor States Have Continued Progress Toward Transparency 2.0  23
  28. 28. Figure 5: Michigan Tracks Economic Development Incentives with Interactive Map46 Jennifer Granholm’s administration, the Despite these many beneficial features, state awarded more than $3.5 billion in the map can and should still be improved. subsidies to 508 companies.43 Many of In order to enable residents to assess the these were specifically targeted to grow actual effectiveness of the incentives in the economy and create jobs. For exam- growing the economy, the tool should be ple, in 2006, Michigan gave Ford Motor upgraded to disclose the number of actual Company $151 million in tax credits to in- jobs produced from particular projects. vest in various facilities across the state.44 The data available throughout the website However, up until recently, taxpayers should also be made downloadable. lacked the tools to determine which com- panies received the funds, the value of the subsidies, and the intended results from New Hampshire Opens the individual investments. In 2011, state of- State’s Checkbook ficials boosted transparency by linking In the past year, New Hampshire unveiled Michigan’s transparency site to an inter- the state’s checkbook on its transparency active map that tracks economic develop- website, TransparencyNH. The checkbook ment incentives. (See Figure 5.) Residents tool—called the State Expenditure Regis- can now learn which government-funded ter—enables users to view the payments projects are in their county, how specific to vendors from 53 departments, agencies, companies will spend the funds, and the universities and other government entities estimated number of jobs intended to be dating back to July 2008.47 The check- created. The mapping tool makes it easy book is updated monthly, giving residents, to see where these projects are located watchdog groups and government officials around the state.45 the ability to monitor state spending in a24  Following the Money 2012
  29. 29. Fading Sunshine in the Golden StateCalifornia Takes a Big Step Backwards from Transparency 2.0By Pedro Morillas, CALPIRG Education FundC alifornia has consistently been a little behind the curve when it comes to making its spending data available and accessible online. Between 2009 and 2011 California had a transparencywebsite, called Reporting Transparency in Government,that was a central searchable location formuch of the state’s spending information. It wasn’t highly user-friendly and there were majorgaps in the information available, but it stood as a foundation that could be built upon. Unfortunately, in November 2011, Governor Jerry Brown shut down the site, effectively up-rooting California’s transparency efforts.39 The practical effect of taking down the site is thatCalifornia’s spending picture is more obscured. The reason offered by Brown’s administrationfor removing the site was that they wanted users to go to the primary sources of the informa-tion.40 This is a little bit like saying that people ought to use the internet without Google or othersearch engines. While state spending information may technically still be available online or byrequest under California’s Open Records Act, it is not truly accessible because the data are onceagain scattered across multiple agency websites, each with different formats and locations for theinformation, or require an official records request.41 (See Figure 6.) The downgrade is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, the public’s interest in the statebudget and how public dollars are spent increases with every program cut and with ongoing statedeficits. Making it more difficult to follow the money at a time when demand to see the state’scheckbook is rising further undermines the public’s faith in government. Second, despite saving$21,000 a year by dismantling the transparency site, this move could end up costing the statemore money.42 From fewer requests for information to added scrutiny of potentially wastefulspending, transparency websites can result in significant savings. (See Section “Transparency 2.0Makes Government More Effective and Accountable” on page 12.) California is home to the tech giants of the world—Google, Facebook, Twitter, and dozens ofother technology companies that are leading the way when it comes to searching for and find-ing information online. When Californians can summon a satellite image of the capitol buildingfrom a cell phone in a matter of seconds, it is reasonable to expect that they should also be ableto see what’s happening inside the building just as easily. It is disappointing and embarrassingthat Sacramento is not only lagging behind, but actively moving in the opposite direction whenit comes to keeping pace with current standards. The obvious first step to improve the transparency of California’s budget spending is torestore the transparency website. Without a central location for the data, the state simply lacksthe digital infrastructure to build upon. Once California retraces its steps, transparency shouldbe improved by making data available on economic development incentives and revenue lostfrom tax expenditures. States Have Continued Progress Toward Transparency 2.0  25
  30. 30. Figure 6: California’s Expenditure Data Is Now Scattered Across Multiple Agency Websites timely manner.48 While the checkbook is an unprecedented level of transparency to comprehensive, website administrators Washington’s spending. still need to make it more accessible to us- ers. Visitors on the website find it difficult The LEAP Committee and OFM had to navigate the checkbook and find spe- intended to put the checkbook-level data cific payments because the tool currently online for more than a year. However the lacks any search functions. raw, vendor-specific data could not be posted online because it contained infor- mation deemed private under the Health Washington Overcomes Barriers Insurance Portability and Accountability and Opens the State’s Checkbook Act (HIPAA) and the Family Educational In 2008, the Washington state legislature Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). To make passed Senate Bill 6818, which mandated the checkbook feature live, the website of- that the Legislative Evaluation and Ac- ficials first needed to develop a system to countability Program (LEAP) Committee remove the private HIPAA and FERPA and the Office of Financial Management data—a process that was not completed (OFM) create a transparency website with for more than a year.50 state expenditure, revenue and budget information.49 Soon after, the site went The checkbook-level feature is easy to live—but it lacked checkbook-level expen- use and its data are downloadable, but the diture data, and although the site posted information provided is limited. Visitors an icon linking to the state’s checkbook, can browse expenditure information by the link was inactive. Then, in January the name of the vendor, type of good or 2012, the checkbook went live, bringing service, or purchasing agency. They can26  Following the Money 2012
  31. 31. then download the expenditure informa- updating their transparency sites to make thetion into a variety of data processing files. reports available has made the informationHowever, as of our evaluation of the site, it far more accessible to the general public.does not provide details on the goods andservices purchased through vendor pay- • Illinois Tax Expenditure Reportments or provide copies of the contracts provides details on the state’s 238 taxthat would enable Washington residents breaks, totaling approximatelyto determine whether the purchase was $6.6 billion in lost revenue.52necessary or worth the cost. In addition,the disclosed data do not include expendi- • Nebraska’s Tax Expendituretures prior to December 2011, preventing Reports allow residents to browsevisitors from monitoring whether some details on the revenue lost from sales,companies are historically favored over income (both personal and corporate),others and whether the state is paying a and property tax expenditures datingcomparably higher amount for the goods back to 2000.and services purchased in a certain year. • New York’s Annual Report on State Tax Expenditures posts detailedIllinois, Nebraska, New York information on breaks in income taxes,and Utah Add Online bank taxes, sales taxes, petroleum taxes,Tax Expenditure Data real estate taxes and many others, dat-Many states improved their transparency ing back to 2003.websites by posting information on tax ex-penditures. Tax expenditures—in the form • Although the Utah Tax Commis-of tax exemptions, credits, deferrals and sion’s Annual Report is primarily apreferences—affect state budgets in the municipal listing of tax revenue, it alsosame way as direct spending because they includes data on sales tax exemptionsmust be offset by cuts to other programs for economic development, economicor by raising other taxes. Every year, states efficiency, governmental, social service,spend tens of billions of dollars on these health and charitable purposes.expenditures; however these costs oftenescape oversight because they do not ap- To provide the greatest use to the pub-pear as state budget line items and rarely lic, tax expenditure reports should includerequire legislative approval to renew.51 the cost of each tax expenditure program, be posted annually with data for several Over the past year, many states have years, and include the stated purpose oflinked transparency sites to their tax ex- each expenditure program. Although thependiture reports, which include detailed tax expenditure reports of Illinois, Nebraska,lists of the state’s forgone revenue from New York, and Utah fulfill most of theseeach program or policy granting tax cred- standards, they all fail to explain the pur-its, deductions and exemptions. pose of each expenditure program, leaving citizens unable to assess the importance or Although some states’ tax expenditure performance of programs relative to theirreports have existed for several years, cost. States Have Continued Progress Toward Transparency 2.0  27
  32. 32. Making the Grade: Scoring States’ Progress Toward Transparency 2.0 E ach state’s transparency website was states. The average score for a Democratic- analyzed and assigned a grade based leaning state (determined by political party on its searchability and the breadth of of the current governor) was 70.2, while information provided. (See Appendix A for that of a Republican-leaning state was 68.9, the complete scorecard, and Appendix B for a difference of less than two points. Among a full explanation of the methodology and the seven states that scored an ”A” or “A-”, explanations of how the scoring system was 3 have Democratic governors and four have applied to each state’s specific website.) An Republican governors. Among the five states initial inventory of each state’s website and a that received an “F,” two have Democratic set of questions were first sent to the admin- governors and three have Republican gover- istrative offices believed to be responsible nors. In fact, no clear pattern of Republican for operating each state’s website. (For a list or Democratic superiority in Transparency of questions sent to state officials, see Ap- 2.0 is apparent regardless of how the political pendix C.) Follow up e-mails, and—if nec- leanings of a state are measured. Comparing essary—phone calls were made to these of- states by the party of their U.S. Senators, the fices, and notices were sent to the governor’s party controlling the state legislature or the office in each state. Officials from 47 states last presidential vote similarly all yield nearly responded with substantive information, identical average transparency scores.53 clarifying or confirming information about their websites. In some cases, our research Based on the grades assigned to each team adjusted scores based on this clarifying website, states can be broken into five cat- feedback. Only Idaho, Wisconsin and Ver- egories: Leading states, Advancing states, mont did not respond to our inquiries. Emerging states, Lagging states and Fail- ing states. (See Table 2 and Figure 7.) Government transparency does not fol- low any regional or partisan pattern. As was The following sections summarize com- the case in 2010 and 2011, higher levels of mon traits shared by the states in each of transparency are not a characteristic of ei- these categories to highlight their strengths ther Democratic- or Republican-leaning and weaknesses.28  Following the Money 2012
  33. 33. Table 2: Leading, Advancing, Emerging, Lagging and Failing States Category Grade States Leading states A Kentucky, Texas A- Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, West Virginia Advancing states B+ New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah B Connecticut, Michigan, Nebraska, South Dakota, Washington B- Delaware, Illinois, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, VirginiaEmerging states C+ Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma C Hawaii, Missouri, Nevada C- Colorado, Kansas, North Dakota, South Carolina Lagging states D+ No state received a D+ D Florida, Ohio D- Alaska, California, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin Failing states F Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, WyomingFigure 7: How the 50 States Rank in Providing Online Access to GovernmentSpending Data Grade A B C D F Making the Grade  29
  34. 34. Changes to the Grading Criteria from 2011 R eflecting rising standards for government transparency, the grading criteria changed slightly from the 2011 Following the Money report, resulting in chang- es in grades for some websites whose content has not changed since 2011.54 For example, Kansas’ score fell from a 73 to a 68 due to more rigorous scoring criteria and no significant improvements on the state’s transparency website in the past year. By contrast, although North Carolina made no improvements to their website, the state’s grade improved slightly from 85 to 87 because the site already included crite- ria newly assessed this year. Changes in the criteria were: • The searchability criteria (“Search by Vendor,” “Search by Keyword or Activ- ity” and “Search by Agency or Department”) were tightened so that points were no longer awarded unless this searchability applied to checkbook-level spend- ing. Points were no longer awarded if a database of pre-purchase orders was searchable. (Pre-purchase orders are contracts between the government and a vendor that establish a pre-negotiated price for a good or service. Pre-purchase orders allow citizens to monitor whether or not a government department is overpaying for a certain good or service. However, pre-purchase orders are not checkbook-level because they do not allow citizens to learn how much the gov- ernment paid the vendor.) • “Search by Agency or Department” was added as a criterion to reflect how the ability for users to find payments made to vendors by searching by the payer increases functionality. • The “Contract or Summary Information Available” criterion was tightened so that full credit is only awarded for providing copies of all contracts, as opposed to providing copies of all pre-purchase orders. Also, states can no longer receive partial credit for having a vague description of the general category of good or service purchased (partial credit is still awarded for having a detailed description). (continued on page 31) Table 3: Leading “A” States Leading “A” States These seven states have established user- State Grade friendly transparency portals that contain comprehensive information on govern- Texas 98 ment expenditures. In a testament to the Kentucky 96 rapidly advancing standards for online Indiana 93 transparency, almost all of this year’s Louisiana 92 Leading state sites would have been the Massachusetts 92 top scorer only two years ago. Citizens West Virginia 91 Arizona 9030  Following the Money 2012