Probably most people who think about “government transparency” as desirable would say that at a minimum what should be open, measurable and easy to understand is where the government gets its money and how it spends it. A study just released of how state governments across the nation use the Internet for this purpose shows California, home to Silicon Valley, failing its citizens’ expectations in this regard rather miserably. Here’s how the California Public Interest Research Group puts it.
California received a “D minus” when it comes to government spending transparency, according to Following the Money 2012: How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, the third annual report of its kind by the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG).
“At a time when anyone with a smart phone can summon a satellite image of the capitol building in seconds, we should be able to see what’s happening inside the building just as easily,” said Pedro Morillas, CALPIRG legislative director.
Officials from California and 46 other states provided the researchers with feedback on their initial evaluation of state transparency websites. The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and Arizona.
Morillas added, “As home to the tech industry, it’s disappointing and embarrassing that California is not only lagging behind, but actively moving in the wrong direction when it comes to keeping pace with current online transparency standards.”
This year’s report found that 46 states now provide an online database of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail, a major increase from 32 states two years ago. Twenty nine state transparency websites now provide information on government expenditures through tax code deductions, exemptions and credits – up from eight states two years ago.
“Putting spending information online saves money, and bolsters public confidence in government,” said Morillas. “The state legislature could use a whole lot of both right now.”
States that have created or improved their online transparency have typically done so with little upfront cost. In fact, the site that was recently taken down in California cost just $21,000 a year. States with top-flight transparency websites actually save money for taxpayers, while also restoring public confidence in government, and preventing misspending and pay-to-play contracts.
This is what California calls online transparency.