The Open Government Directive encouraged states to put valuable government data online. In this series we’re reviewing each state’s efforts in this direction.
This week: Washington
USPIRG, a public interest group, ranked Washington state second lowest in the country in a recent evaluation of spending websites that track contracts and grants among other expenditures across states.
While the site, fiscal.wa.gov, links to a relatively broad swath of datasets, that data will have to get a lot more granular to be really useful to researchers and journalists.
A transparency website was mandated by the state legislature in 2008, and fiscal.wa.gov covers the basics. Expenditures are available at the program level, are updated on a monthly basis, and you can look at several years at once.
The problem is that this information doesn’t get any more granular than the program level. Users can’t search for an individual vendor, or see how much the governor’s office spent on, say, office supplies.
Grants and contracts are only available in PDF format, and tax breaks don’t appear at all. The site does have some hidden gems: it links to performance assessments for each agency, and it offers a searchable database of state audits.
Tom Jensen, Administrator of the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program (LEAP), the agency that helped set up the site, says a lot of these recommendations are currently being discussed or are already being implemented successfully in a test environment. He said he’s hoping to be able to release line-item expenditures, for example, sometime this summer.
Jensen’s team appears to be very close to achieving this goal; in fact, the state already has a great best practice model in their so-called Spending Freeze Exemptions Report. It’s a list of expenses that were allowed despite the state’s recent spending freeze. The reports are viewable at the checkbook level, are easily searchable, and are downloadable in a machine-readable (Excel) format.