States of Transparency: South Dakota


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: South Dakota


After an open records law passed last year, a South Dakota reporter was able to discover that a Canadian company was getting state tax incentives for building a crude oil pipeline. Democratic state representatives jumped on the issue as a lesson about secrecy in government. While the Freedom of Information Act-like law may be reaping rewards for state reporters, however, the state’s transparency website will likely yield few surprises unless it gets a lot more granular, and a lot more reporter-friendly.

Downloadability: The state gets a failing grade on this measure. Not even payroll information or general budget balances are downloadable in a machine-readable format.

Timeliness: According to state representatives, information goes up as soon as it’s updated in the state’s accounts. (Legally, contracts must be up no more than a month after the contract term begins).

Expenditures: The expenditures that South Dakota discloses are at such a bird’s-eye level that they’re of little use to researchers who want to know what’s really going on in state government. For example, you can see that the Administration Department of Public Safety spent $1,512 on supplies and materials in Fiscal Year 2010, but you can’t tell what that money was spent on, how many purchases it represents or from whom, and you can’t download any of the information to do your own analysis on it.

Revenues: State revenues are about as granular as they are on the other state websites we’ve reviewed recently. You can see that the Tourism Department received $33,223 in operating grants from arts and history federal funds in Fiscal Year 2010, but it’s a little confusing what they spent it on, especially since much more than that was distributed in grants in the same year.

Contracts: The site displays PDFs of all contracts over $10,000. They’re searchable by vendor name. It’s a great feature if you want to investigate a particular company, but almost useless if you’re trying to analyze state contracts in any systematic way. And the $10,000 limit is way too high, especially for such a small state.

Payroll data: You have to know the employee’s last name to find their salary (otherwise, you can only get a list of titles and pay rates, without names attached). Overtime, bonuses and incidentals are not revealed, since the actual amounts per paycheck aren’t listed as they are on other state sites.

Tax breaks: Not available.