States of Transparency: New Jersey
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.
week: New Jersey
Six months after a corruption scandal that was lurid even by local standards, New Jersey’s new governor boosted state transparency efforts in January with a new website. The site, www.nj.gov/transparency, publishes state spending and revenues, and although it received one of the lowest scores in the US Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG)’s recent survey of such sites, it has promise. What’s more, the state also boasts an excellent campaign finance portal — www.elec.state.nj.us.
GOVERNOR’S TRANSPARENCY SITE:
Background: Nj.gov/transparency was mandated by Gov. Chris Christie’s executive order and was created in January 2010.
Downloadable?: Almost all of the site’s data is downloadable as CSV (a machine-readable format) as well as in PDF format. This is a relatively rare feature that all transparency sites should offer.
Revenues: The data is less than a month old, and you can drill down to the funding level. For example, you can see that the Agriculture Department received $6,600 for organic certifications this month. What you can’t see is which farms paid to be certified.
Expenditures: One of the most important and currently weakest section, the expenditures data only gives you a starting point from which to investigate. For example, you can see that the Agriculture Department spent $2,000 on fuel and utilities in 2009, while it spent over $28,000 in these categories in 2007. But this is as granular as it gets. And the data is a full year old.
Payroll data: CSV-downloadable; up-to-date.
Tax breaks: A PDF is available of an annual tax expenditure report. Nothing machine-readable.
UPGRADE IN OCTOBER:
State officials promise a major upgrade in October that will bring the expenditure data down to the level of individual payments to individual vendors. This would put New Jersey’s site among the top transparency websites in the country. Officials also promise a raw data download of all spending information, as is currently available for revenues. They say the site will be updated on a quarterly basis, and will also include a searchable database of pensions, real estate sales, and expenditures by authorities (such as the Port Authorities).
Background: The site has been around since 1998, and the earliest reports on the site date back to that era.
Downloadability: The raw data is available as CSV.
Granularity: Excellent. The database is searchable by contributor name, PAC type, occupation, employer, etc. Using the advanced search, you can filter your results based on whether the contributor is a union, corporation, legislative leadership committee, etc. Of course, the quality of the data is dependent on the accuracy of the filings, which is always dubious. But at least the reports are available in real time.
Timeliness: Reports are posted a week after they’re filed.