In an effort to become more transparent, the state of Idaho has launched a new website that details state spending and revenue. Transparent.Idaho.gov was created by the state controller’s office, after the state continually received failing grades on its openness.
Then state controller’s office Chief of Staff Brandon Woolf said a transparency website had been a goal of the agency for the last six or more years. Woolf is now State Controller, and he says those report cards were a bit of a breaking point in pushing for a transparency website.
Woolf wants the new site to be considered a one-stop-shop for the public to find spending and revenue reports. This includes a breakdown of Idaho’s general fund, the federal funding Idaho receives, and how much the state spends on employees, travel, and benefits.
Last year, Woolf said the biggest hurdle for creating this kind of a public resource was a lack of funding. “The governor put it into our budget this year, but it was pulled,” Woolf said in 2012. “It’s trying to get blood out of a turnip. We realized there was no money over these recent years.”
So, Woolf says, this new site didn’t require an additional appropriation. It was made in-house. “We realized there was no additional money in recent years,” says Woolf, “but this year we overcame the cost hurdle through contract negotiations with our data warehouse software vendor.”
Idaho is one of the last states in the country to build a transparency website. Woolf says this is a starting point.
“It’s the citizens’ government, and it’s the citizens’ money,” Woolf says. “This will help them understand how their money is being spent.”
Still, the majority of the information available on the new site is already public and in many cases online, it’s just spread across various state agency websites. This new website puts that available information all in one place.
Over the last year the state controller’s office has worked with U.S. PIRG, the organization that gave Idaho a failing grade for transparency last year. Scott Phillips, deputy state controller, says U.S. PIRG has been a valuable resource. “I can’t speak highly enough of their organization,” he says.
Phillips adds Idaho’s new transparency website will be updated daily. It doesn’t yet include a real-time checkbook feature to see how the state is spending money, but it’s a goal to add that in the future.