Report: Taxpayer Safeguards

Following the Money 2010

How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data
Released by: Arizona PIRG Education Fund

The ability to see how government uses the public purse is fundamental to democracy. Spending transparency checks corruption, bolsters public confidence in government, and promotes fiscal responsibility.

In the private sector, Internet search technology has revolutionized the accessibility and transparency of information. We take for granted the ability to track deliveries online, to check cell phone minutes and compare real estate on the Web, and even to summon – at the click of a mouse – satellite and street-level views of any address. But until recently, when it came to tracking government expenditures online, we were left in the dark.

State governments across the country are changing that. At least 32 states currently mandate that residents be able to access an online database of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail. Most of these Web sites are also searchable, making it easier for residents to obtain information about government spending.

This report evaluates states’ progress toward “Transparency 2.0” – a new standard of comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility. At least 7 states have become leaders in the drive toward Transparency 2.0, launching easy-to-use, searchable websites with a wide range of spending transparency information. Twenty-five additional states have made initial steps toward online spending transparency by launching websites with checkbook-level detail on state spending that nonetheless have much room for improvement.
 
These Transparency 2.0 states are beginning to reap the benefits of transparency in greater government accountability and cost savings. The remaining states should join the ranks of Transparency 2.0 states by providing their budget information online in an accessible manner. All states should look to expand and improve their transparency websites to provide more and better information to citizens.

Key findings include:

  • The movement toward Transparency 2.0 is broad, bipartisan, and popular.
  • Transparency 2.0 saves money and bolsters citizen confidence.
  • In 32 states, transparency websites provide detailed data on government spending.
  • Even in leading states, there are many opportunities to improve transparency websites.
  • States should fill in budget reporting gaps and improve online transparency.

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