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Denver – Colorado took a big jump forward in the transparency of its government spending according to Following the Money 2014: How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, the fifth annual report of its kind by the CoPIRG Foundation. After receiving a “D+” in 2013 and placing in the bottom ten states, Colorado jumped to a “B” and placed in the top 20 by implementing improvements like making over 19,000 public subsidies totaling $500 million accessible online.
“After a disappointing grade last year, we’re pleased that Colorado is clearly taking transparency seriously by opening up $500 million worth of subsidies on Colorado’s one-stop transparency website,” said Danny Katz, Director of the CoPIRG Foundation. “Transparency is important for making government more effective and accountable.”
Given technological advances and public expectations, if information is not online, it is not truly accessible. So the CoPIRG Foundation report compared Colorado’s online transparency to that of the 49 other states.
While Colorado ranked 42nd in the 2013 report, Colorado vaulted to 16th in 2014. Contributing to the jump was the action by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade to open the books on the state’s subsidy payments. From the state’s transparency website, residents now have access to the details of over 19,000 subsidy awards with an aggregate value of $500 million granted between January 2011 and June 2013. Colorado also provides a statement about the specific types of transactions that are not included in their system.
“Our report shows transparency helps the government save money, measure progress toward policy goals, and hold elected officials and recipients of public funds accountable,” said Katz. “Colorado’s advances position it well to take advantage of the benefits other states have seen from their transparency programs.”
In the report, the CoPIRG Foundation provided examples of the kinds of public benefits that transparency has brought to different states.
- In Texas, the comptroller’s office used their transparency website to save $4.8 million over two years through more efficient administration.
- The Arkansas Teacher Retirement System downloaded and analyzed travel spending data to ensure state employees are carpooling together when possible, reducing the agency’s travel costs.
- Mississippi estimates that every information request fulfilled by its transparency website rather than by a state employee saves the state between $750 and $1,000 in staff time.
- Once South Dakota’s new transparency website was launched, an emboldened reporter requested additional information on subsidies that led legislators to save about $19 million per year by eliminating redundancies in their economic development program.
According to the report, while Colorado is considered an advancing state, it has room for improvement. Specifically, Colorado’s transparency website needs to improve the search functionality and the usability of the downloaded information on the website. For example, visitors who wish to browse among recipients of state contracts must already know the first and second letter of the vendor’s name. In addition, Colorado missed points for not providing enough information on the projected and actual public benefits for many of the subsidy programs.
The CoPIRG Foundation report comes at a time when the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration (DPA), which manages the state’s transparency website, is in the process of upgrading the site.
According to the agency, “DPA requested funding from the General Assembly to implement a modern transparency website. This update to the Transparency Online Project website coincides with the launch of the State's new financial system, called the Colorado Operations Resource Engine (CORE), scheduled for July 1, 2014. The existing TOP website was built and maintained by the Department without funding from the General Assembly. This request will allow the Department to invest in a modern website platform that will take advantage of the capabilities of CORE and advances in technology that have occurred since the launch of the current TOP website.”
“Every year, online transparency standards rise as technology advances so Colorado needs to be vigilant and look to improve,” said Katz. “Transparency is an investment worth making. It is not possible to ensure that government spending decisions are responsible and efficient unless information is publicly accessible.”
To read the report, click here.
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