State controller planning major upgrade to ‘Transparent Idaho’ website

From the Idaho Press


BOISE — Idaho state Controller Brandon Woolf is planning a major upgrade to his “Transparent Idaho” website to move it toward his long-sought goal of making the state’s checkbook-level financial information easily available and searchable online.

The site, which Woolf launched in 2013 — with data that’s automatically updated every night — has information ranging from state employee salaries to payments made on state contracts to expenditures on travel, employee counts by agency and more.

“This is truly our opportunity to open the books,” Woolf told reporters Tuesday. “This is the citizens’ money, and they have the right to know how that money is being spent.”

Woolf is the twice-elected state controller; he started working in the state controller’s office as an intern in 1997, working his way up through an array of positions there over the years, and holds an MBA from Boise State University and a political science degree from Utah State University.

Woolf said public trust in government has been dropping for decades, and he sees increased transparency as a way to help restore it. The effort also should help deter fraud, he said, as public officials know people are watching; increase accountability; and provide data that can assist policy makers in decision-making.

The current site at will get new tools including more dynamic charts and reports; a plethora of ways to slice, dice and view the data as well as to sort, download or share it; and increased searchability and detail.

Woolf said his goal over the next four years is to continue expanding the site to include local government financial data, as well, along with increased detail on state finances that will become available as part of a multi-year upgrade of the state’s financial systems.

As he’s done all along, Woolf is building the site from within his budget, rather than getting an additional appropriation from the state; the upgrade includes a $125,000 annual contract with OpenGov, a Silicon Valley-based technology company that provides similar cloud-based open-government portals to more than 2,000 government agencies in 48 states.

OpenGov Vice President Tim Melton, a former Michigan state representative and former county commissioner, said, “Government has more data than anybody.” But government typically spends 80 to 90 percent of its effort on collecting data and just 10 to 20 percent on analyzing it, he said. “We try to flip that.”

OpenGov, founded in 2012 and developed by a group of partners including technologists from Stanford University, serves only public agencies.

Woolf said the cost of the annual contract will be covered “from savings and efficiencies within our own office.”

One of the benefits of the transparency site, he said, is that public information that previously required a citizen to file a public records request is proactively made available online for free, saving time and money both for the citizen requester and for the state.

In some ways, Woolf said, the site could be viewed as helping turn Idaho’s 1.7 million citizens into “1.7 million auditors,” all capable of watchdogging their own government and its finances.

The upgraded site is scheduled to go live within the coming weeks and should be up and running by June 1. Additional upgrades will continue over the next four years.

From the Idaho Press

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