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Press Release


Study: States Gradually Turning to "Google Government" with Online Public Spending Databases

For Immediate Release March 23, 2007
Pete Sepp, (703) 683-5700

(Alexandria, VA) -- Will states emulate the federal government's move to provide the average citizen access to where their tax dollars are going? Today a study from the 350,000- member National Taxpayers Union (NTU) offered a cautiously optimistic answer to that question, noting that more than 20 states have either constructed or are considering implementation of searchable online grant and contract databases -- but there are large differences in their quality.

Last fall President Bush signed into law the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, sponsored by Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Barack Obama (D-IL). The law mandates creation of a searchable online source the public can use to track the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal grant and contract disbursements. At present, only limited data is available to citizens on the amounts and recipients of federal dollars distributed.

NTU Senior Government Affairs Manager Kristina Rasmussen and Associate Policy Analyst Christopher Biggs, who authored the study, determined that 14 states offer some kind of government spending database that is usable by the public (contract databases that primarily serve procurement and bidding processes were not counted). Among the exemplary sites they found:

  • Connecticut's Bond Allocation Database furnishes detailed information on the primary recipient of state funds financed through borrowing, along with the total amount of funding authorized, and a description of each project (from 1995 forward).
  • Indiana's Governor recently issued an Executive Order to create a contract database. The state now offers information on all professional service contracts and leases issued (including grants). The site allows users to view contracts issued before July 1, 2006 by using Microsoft Excel or HTML.
  • Nebraska's Auditor of Public Accounts allows the public to view audit and budget information for every local government within the state dating back to fiscal year 2000.
  • North Carolina's State Auditor provides citizens with arguably the most in-depth grant information in the country. Due to recent law, all nongovernmental entities receiving state money must complete reports on the use of taxpayer funds.

Rasmussen and Biggs noted that while some states have praiseworthy grant and disclosure information, many will need improved compliance from nongovernmental groups. On the bright side, several others (CO, HI, IL, KS, MD, MN, OK, TN) are considering database proposals.

"No state has fully emulated the federal concept of a single searchable grant and contract database, but government leaders are gradually picking up on the need for more public transparency when it comes to tracking -- and evaluating -- the spending of tax dollars," Rasmussen and Biggs concluded. "Hopefully this pro-taxpayer trend will accelerate this year."

NTU is a non-partisan citizen group founded in 1969 to work for lower taxes, smaller government, and more economic freedom. Note: Issue Brief 161, Show Us the Money: How Online Databases Can Help Taxpayers Sort Out State Spending, is available at www.ntu.org.

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