Transparency and accountability

Government needs to be open and accountable to taxpayers. Many of the tools to achieve that goal also help government employees succeed in their jobs.

In addition to providing services to the citizenry, governments should also allow citizens to understand how they pay for those services. As budgets have become increasingly complex, citizens are less able to monitor how their taxes are spent.

What is available online now is of limited value. Documents must be downloaded and data must often be extracted from scanned PDFs into more useful formats. Legislators can request fiscal research staff to plumb the budget depths for them, but that service is not available to taxpayers.

To understand state spending in any area, a legislator or citizen must consult a number of documents, go through hundreds of virtual or real pages, add numbers together, and sometimes extrapolate from the past. There is no single source online that provides detailed information on how the state spends money.

Many state agencies provide useful information for consumers of their services, as seen in the relative ease in finding school enrollment and graduation rates at education- related agencies' websites. Few agencies have meaningful measures of their results; fewer still make those measures available online. Without such measures, policymakers and agency managers can make only informed guesses about what works and how to spend tax dollars effectively.

Key Facts

Recommendations

  1. Put detailed spending online, not just contracts. North Carolina should expand NCOpenBook.gov to provide transaction-level detail updated daily with spending and revenue for all of state government. Each state agency should provide easy access to its transaction information on every page of its website.
  2. Use XML and structured formats for data transparency. Just putting information online is not enough if it is difficult to analyze and use the data. Open data standards make it easier to compare information in context.
  3. Develop meaningful outcome measures for state agencies and hold them accountable for their results.

Analyst: Joseph Coletti
Director of Health and Fiscal Policy Studies
919-828-3876 • jcoletti@johnlocke.org