Following the Money
How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data
Released by US PIRG EDUCATION FUND AND FRONTIER GROUP
“Every year, state governments spend hundreds of billions of dollars through contracts for goods and services, subsidies to encourage economic development, and other expenditures. Accountability and public scrutiny are necessary to ensure that the public can trust that state funds are spent as well as possible.
In recent years, state governments across the country have created transparency websites that provide checkbook-level information on government spending – meaning that users can view the payments made to individual companies as well as details about the goods or services purchased or other public benefits obtained. These websites allow residents and watchdog groups to ensure that taxpayers can see how public dollars are spent.” -NJPIRG
Release date: April 25, 2018
US PIRG commentary on the 2018 Report:
Following the Money 2018: New Report Ranks All Fifty States on Government Spending Transparency
Online government spending transparency continues to improve, but many states still struggle to meet 21st century standards, according to Following the Money 2018: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data. This is the eighth report of its kind produced by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and Frontier Group.
The report graded each state’s transparency website from “A” to “F” based on its content and user-friendliness. This year, for the first time, we worked with focus groups to see how well the sites worked for ordinary Americans. With that new standard, most states’ grades dropped.
“The public has a right to know how and when their tax dollars are being spent so that they can hold elected officials and civil servants accountable for ethical, effective stewardship of funds,” said Alex Howard, Deputy Director of the Sunlight Foundation.
The report found that many states’ websites lack features that make them intuitive for users, such as a full search function, standardized data descriptions and interactive tools.
“These sites can often be confusing for citizen users. Our focus groups put these transparency websites to the test and found only a handful meet the expectations of a 21st century user.” said Rachel J. Cross, a Frontier Group analyst and report co-author.
Collectively, states present information about hundreds of billions of dollars of government spending in great detail. Transparency can save money for taxpayers, while also restoring public confidence in government and preventing misspending and pay-to-play contracts.
Ohio and West Virginia tied for the highest score this year. After earning a “D-” in 2014, Ohio has received an “A+” every year.
West Virginia also has undergone a meteoric rise. After earning a “C” in 2015, the state jumped a full letter grade in 2016 before getting an A+ this year. Since 2016, West Virginia has launched a robust, user-friendly site with comprehensive information about the state’s subsidy programs.
“Every dollar the state spends is a person’s dollar. Just because it goes into the state capitol doesn’t mean the state owns it. It still belongs to the public,” West Virginia State Auditor John B. “JB” McCuskey said. “I [want] to make sure every citizen knows where their money is going.”
“Most states put a lot of information on line, but it’s completely unusable for an ordinary person,” said Michelle Surka, Tax and Budget Campaign Director with U.S. PIRG Education Fund.
“If people can’t actually find the information they’re looking for, and understand it without a background in state bureaucracy, then it doesn’t matter how much data is online.”
To read the full report: https://uspirgedfund.org/reports/usf/following-money-2018
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The U.S. PIRG Education Fund works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer meaningful opportunities for civic participation.
Reports released for earlier years:
Release date: April 13, 2016
Release date: March 18, 2015
Release date: April 8, 2014