There is no question that when properly used, technology provides the public with insight into government as never before. All too often, people will express dissatisfaction with the size of government and state their belief that there is too much waste in government, but fail to provide a concrete example of substantive government waste.
Technology changes this. In my view, new technologies should be quickly deployed to allow the public to see government spending, analyze government performance, and expose wasteful and inefficient processes.
I am a big believer in the fact that government should use technology to push out as much government performance raw data as possible. All too often, when the government simply creates transparency tools without releasing the underlying data, the data used by the tool is filtered in a way that is not user friendly or, worse, is designed to prevent data viewers from being able to gain a complete understanding of what they are seeing.
I have enjoyed being a part of the effort to push out raw data feeds through the data.ok.gov portal. I believe that free market-oriented organizations will use this data to develop transparency tools that are far more advanced than those tools internally developed by the government. These new tools will not only provide the public with the means to see government performance, they will also be used by policy makers and government officials to understand the strengths and weakness of government processes (something that legislators do not currently have the ability to do).
The Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs recently provided a fantastic example of this type of service. OCPA requested several raw data sets from state government through Open Records requests. They used this data to develop a transparency website located at AccountabilityOK.com. The site allows the public to query and see individual state expenditures, tax credit recipients, pension systems and revenue data. The site’s user interface is more user friendly and comprehensive than the state’s Open Books transparency portal. This site is free to use and I would encourage you to visit the site and see just a few of the areas where state government is spending your money.
This new tool is providing journalists with a fantastic method for sourcing new stories about government inefficiencies. For example, last week, on the blog CapitolBeatOK.com (hd31.org/153), writer Patrick McGuigan used the OCPA data as the foundation for an article detailing that 877 state employees earn a higher salary than the Governor’s salary of $147,000 per year. In June, writing on NewsOK.com (hd31.org/155), writer Paul Monies used the OCPA data to point out that 60 former state employees make more than $100,000 each year from state retirement payments. These are concrete examples of government waste.
I believe that journalists will write many such stories based on queries of the OCPA data, and think this type of tool will be a catalyst for transforming Oklahoma government.
I also believe that the data requested from the state by OCPA should have never needed to come through an Open Records request. It should have already been available through the data.ok.gov portal. I plan to continue the effort to place additional and more comprehensive raw data sets to be published online.