Iowa's Transparency Website Continues to Improve!
by Jennifer L. Crull
Periodically we report to you how the Iowa Transparency Website that the state has developed is rated compared with the other states. In April of this year, the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) released its new Follow the Money 2014 report. We have reported in the past how Iowa is doing concerning transparency, but this is the first year the U.S. PIRG report has included a transparency Website for all 50 states!
The report from U.S. PIRG highlights the role that transparency plays in saving money for the government concerning the following issues:
- Negotiating contracts and increasing competition.
- Identifying and eliminating inefficient spending.
- Reducing costly information requests.
As the report points out, transparency Websites should be:
- Comprehensive: A user-friendly web portal provides residents the ability to search detailed information about government contracts, spending, subsidies, and tax expenditures for all government entities.
- One-Stop: Residents can search all government expenditures on a single website.
- One-Click Searchable and Downloadable: Residents can search data with a single query or browse commonsense categories. Residents can sort data on government spending by recipient, amount, legislative district, granting agency, purpose, or keyword. Residents can also download data to conduct detailed offline analyses.
This report has Iowa in the Leading States category. Table One includes the eight Leading States, and the following is the report’s definition of Leading States, which is the “A” range:
The eight states leading in online spending transparency have created user-friendly websites that provide visitors with accessible information on an array of expenditures. Not only can ordinary citizens find information on specific vendor payments through easy-to-use search features, but experts and watchdog groups can also download and analyze the entire checkbook dataset.
The Iowa Transparency Website for the state is located at data.iowa.gov. The state also lists the cost of start-up of the Website is less than $330,000 over three years. As you can see from Table One, Iowa is now only four points behind the top transparency state, which means with a little more work Iowa could land in that top position in the next few years. This is a great accomplishment given that we didn’t even have a Website two years ago!
Table Two shows the breakdown of the Iowa total score and grade. You can see that we have work to do concerning the Economic Subsidies area. This year the report also discusses that the criteria was changed to accommodate the increased expectations of the Websites. The new criteria is included in Table Three. This is a description of the scoring breakdown, which allows you to better understand where Iowa was docked on points.
As you can see, Iowa has been hard at work increasing transparency for the taxpayers. Iowa continued to improve over this last year and has moved into the Leading Statecategory. Let’s hope that we continue to see improvement in the years to come as taxpayers begin to expect more from our state’s transparency Website.
 Benjamin Davis and Phineas Baxandall, Follow the Money 2014, U.S. PIRG, April 2014, pp. 7-8, <http://www.uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/Following%20the%20Money%20vUS% 20v2_0.pdf> accessed on November 26, 2014.
Jennifer L. Crull is an IT Specialist with Public Interest Institute.
IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER is a monthly newsletter reporting on government transparency in our state.
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