Rebounding from an “F” in government transparency last year, Hawaii this year has attained a “C” grade as the second most improved state in the nation, according to a “Following the Money” study released Tuesday.
The study, by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, rated the states in providing online access to government spending data. Wisconsin was the most improved state.
“Open information about the public purse is crucial for democratic and effective government,” senior analyst Phineas Baxandall said in a statement. “It is not possible to ensure that government spending decisions are fair and efficient unless information is publicly accessible.”
As of the end of last year, Hawaii was one of only a few states that did not have a website to aggregate spending information and make it accessible to the public. The state in January launched a one-stop transparency site for spending data at transparency.hawaii.gov.
Some of the information has been available for years on various departmental websites, but this is the first website to bring it all together in one place. Information includes expenditure and financial information. Recipient-specific contract information is provided for spending on health and human services, construction and other goods and services. The website also provides a link to the state’s tax expenditure reports and tax collection reports.
“This one-stop tool is a major improvement and demonstrates the state government’s commitment to transparency in spending,” the report states.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie applauded the improvements and vowed to increase transparency, while acknowledging the state’s progress documented in the report.
“Technology is ever-changing, and state government needs to adapt along with it. An open government promotes citizen engagement in their government that bolsters government accountability and transparency,” Abercrombie said in a statement. “I applaud our state departments and agencies for releasing more than 300 datasets since our Office of Information Management & Technology launched Hawaii’s open data site. We are user friendly and committed to more of the same.”
In the next year, the Department of Budget and Finance should improve the new website by posting information on economic development subsidies granted through Employment and Training Fund grants, Enterprise Zone tax breaks, and other programs. The transparency website should enable citizens to assess the performance of development programs by providing details of the individual subsidies awarded to companies, such as the subsidy value, projected public benefit to be created, and actual public benefit created, the report states.
In 2013, only California and North Dakota had a lower grade than Hawaii’s “F.” This year, there are 13 states below Hawaii, with California again bringing up the rear.