This is the time of year when the previous year’s legislative initiatives have started to go into law and they are quickly becoming of significant effect.
For instance, in the next few weeks the first State Government 2.0 data feeds, sponsored by Senator Anthony Sykes and myself, are set to go online. These were approved in last year’s Senate Bill 1759. I look forward to providing you with the information about these feeds and their far-reaching implications in enhancing transparency.
Also recently placed online were the Open Books 2.0 state government spending transparency enhancements which were approved in House Bill 3422. This legislation was sponsored by current state Treasurer Ken Miller and state Senator Clark Jolley and requested by the grassroots group Oklahomans for Responsible Government (OFRG). The legislation will enhance your right to see how state government spends your money. State officials are now required to post every single spending transaction in a searchable and exportable format. These new features were placed online at the website openbooks.ok.gov within the past few weeks.
I will be the first to admit that the Open Books user interface is a bit clunky and I am not sure that all of the requirements of the legislation have been complied with. For instance, the exportable functionality is almost impossible to find and users must search for the recipients of government spending in all caps. This no doubt discourages usage and must be fixed. But it’s also fair to say that the product still empowers citizens as never before.
For example, last week the issue of whether or not taxpayers dollars should be going to a controversial organization like Planned Parenthood started to be debated in the national news.
It is of course little surprise to realize that federal taxpayer dollars are going to this organization. However, are state taxpayers also funding Planned Parenthood?
Using the Open Books system, with just a few clicks you can see that over $230,000 have been paid by the State Department of Health to Planned Parenthood during the current fiscal year. Without the transparency provided by Open Books, I doubt that very many people would ever know about this spending.
Readers may recall my past articles about the very bad policy of legislative earmarking. For instance, in 2007 I wrote about an earmark for an organization known only as A Pocket Full of Hope. In 2009, I wrote that legislative earmarks were starting to disappear as the state budget was forced to contract because of the economic downturn. However, even though the earmark is gone, according to Open Books, A Pocket Full of Hope is still on the public dole. This raises the disturbing possibility that legislators are still verbally directing agencies behind the scenes on how to spend money. How many other former earmarks are still taking place away from the purview of the public?
Once the user interface is more functional and its usage becomes more widespread, the Open Books platform will transform the way citizens hold government accountable. State government officials will become very cautious when they spend taxpayer dollars because they will understand that you will be reviewing their expenditures.
And now we also have a powerful new tool as legislators to do our job as policy makers to guard taxpayer dollars.