This past week, the town of Gallipolis, Ohio, made its financial records available to the public, the Gallipolis Daily Tribune reported. While this probably wasn't the biggest news story of 2016, it is reflective of an exciting state, and nationwide, trend. Like Gallipolis, local and state governments are taking part in a sweeping movement of government transparency. By investing in quality technological solutions, governments are providing citizens with more information than ever before, saving money and finding inefficiencies along the way.
Ohio leads the charge
Ohio is the poster child for government transparency, but it wasn't always that way. In 2014, the United States Public Interest Research Group rated Ohio's online transparency a D minus, reported Jenni Bergal on Government Technology. The state quickly pushed to fix this, investing $814,000 in what is now OhioCheckbook.com, an open data platform that lets the public access information about government spending. It's a comprehensive source, which, according to OhioCheckbook.com, has "more than 5.1 billion records and 147 million transactions totaling $534 billion of state spending." It's also user-friendly. In fact, usage in the first eight months of its launch was impressive, with nearly 300,000 searches conducted, Bergal wrote. By 2015, Ohio was ranked as the best state in the country for transparency by U.S. PIRG. State Treasurer Josh Mandel, who led the project, hopes to bring Ohio's 3,900 local governments, including Gallipolis, into the system. Although 200 have already committed and 300 have interest in joining, there is still lots of work to do, even for the most transparent state in the country.
Increased savings from increased transparency
Investing in easy-to-use websites for publicly available data has actually saved governments money, a U.S. PIRG press release stated. When there is more information about government expenditures available to contractors, they will know how much they can earn from undertaking certain projects and they might offer to perform a service at a lower price in order to secure it, thereby increasing competition. In Florida, for instance, the state government saved $40 million from renegotiated contracts in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
By allowing anyone to see data on government spending, the average citizen can take the initiative to find inefficiencies. When South Dakota launched its own transparency website, a reporter scoured the information on subsidies and helped the government eliminate about $19 million of redundancies, U.S. PIRG reported.
Finally, a website can help reduce information requests, which are costly and time-consuming. According to U.S. PIRG, Massachussetts's website has reduced the state's paper and postage costs so much that it has saved $3 million. It has also saved money by allowing employees to work on other jobs, making the government more efficient.
Continuing the trend
In 2016, there are now only 15 states that have lower than a C rating for transparency, down from 18 last year, the U.S. PIRG rankings showed. State and local governments are taking notice of the clear results. Quality technological investments and publicly available data breed positive results and enhance the relationship between the people and the government. Gallipolis, Ohio, was the most recent town to make the move. Who's next?