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Washington received a “C” for its government spending transparency website, according to “Following the Money 2018: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the eighth report of its kind by the WashPIRG Foundation and Frontier Group.
The report graded each state’s transparency website from “A” to “F” based on its content and user-friendliness. This year, for the first time, we worked with focus groups to see how well the ordinary Americans could navigate the sites. With that new standard, most states’ grades dropped from our previous report.
“When states are transparent about how they spend tax dollars, we all win: the state saves money, it can operate more efficiently and effectively, and citizens can feel more confident in their government,” said Elise Orlick, WashPIRG Foundation Executive Director. “That’s why Washington should start to prioritize accessible, comprehensive, online spending data.”
The report found that many states’ websites lack features that make them intuitive for users, such as a full search function, standardized data descriptions and interactive tools.
Washington qualifies as a “middling” state. Washington has not made significant improvements since 2016, causing the state to fall behind other states. In today’s digital world, state websites should aspire to be as usable as the many other sites the average citizen visits. Washington’s site suffers from an outdated user-interface that makes it challenging to find specific expenditures in the state checkbook. The site could be most improved by upgrading its searchability and user-friendliness. Additionally, because economic development subsidy information is not recipient-specific, citizen watchdogs can’t analyze how a tax exemption granted to a corporation affects ordinary Washingtonians.
“These sites can often be confusing for citizen users. Our focus groups put transparency websites to the test and found only a handful meet the expectations of a 21st century user,” said Rachel J. Cross, a Frontier Group analyst and report co-author.
Washington officials reported that their transparency portal cost $340,000, plus existing staff time, at launch and costs approximately $190,000 to maintain annually.
To visit Washington’s transparency website, click here: http://fiscal.wa.gov/
To read the full report: https://washpirg.org/reports/waf/following-money-2018
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