Is Iowa's Transparency Website Making the Grade?

by Jennifer L. Crull

Back in February of this year, we reported on the status of the new Iowa Transparency Website that the state had developed. Then in March, the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) released its new Follow the Money 2013 report. We have reported in the past how Iowa is doing concerning transparency, but this is the first year U.S. PIRG report has included the new transparency Website that the state has developed in the ratings.

Transparency is a word that may be starting to lose its effect on people, but it has a very important role to play. The report from U.S. PIRG highlights the role that transparency plays in saving money for the government concerning the following issues:

• Highlighting opportunities for states to negotiate low-cost contracts.
• Increasing competition for contracts.
• Identifying and eliminating inefficient spending.
• Reducing costly information requests.[1]

As the report points out, the issue of transparency is not a partisan issue. Of the seven states receiving a score of “‘A’ (pluses and minuses included) three have Democrats as Governors and four have Republican Governors.”[2] The top scoring state for transparency is Texas. Their overall score was 96, and the next closest state was Massachusetts with a score of 93.[3] Overall the states have been working very hard to increase the level of transparency in their financial affairs over the past several years.

This report included the 10 Most Improved Transparency Websites from 2012 to 2013. The ranking from the states with the highest increase in their score from last year are listed below:

As you can see from the table 10 Most Improved Transparency Websites from 2012 to 2013, Idaho and Iowa are the two most improved states over this last year. So what has Iowa been up to concerning transparency? As you should be aware, the Iowa Legislature passed House File 45 two years ago, which set forth the development of a state-run Website that was to provide transparency for all fiscal matters concerning the state. Since that time the state has launched http://data.iowa.gov with all the financial information concerning the state’s transactions. Our Iowa Transparency Newsletter from February 2013 highlighted the new Website and the features it has to offer the taxpayers of Iowa.

The report highlights the start-up costs of the Iowa Website were less than $75,000 and the annual operating costs are $6,000.[5] Iowa is considered an “Advancing State,” with a score of 85. There are 11 states with higher rankings than Iowa, but only 11 points separate the top state of Texas with 96 and Iowa with a score of 85.[6]

As you can see, Iowa has been hard at work increasing the transparency for the taxpayers of Iowa. Iowa has made leaps and bounds in the last year, so let’s hope Iowa continues to strive and refine our transparency Website. Maybe next year we will be listed as a “Leading” state.

Endnotes
[1] Benjamin Davis, Phineas Baxandall, and Ryan Pierannunzi, “Follow the Money 2013,” U.S. PIRG, March 2013, p. 11, <http://uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/USP_Following_the_Money_screen_final.pdf> accessed on December 2, 2013.
[2] Ibid., p. 27.
[3] Ibid., p. 29.
[4] Ibid., p. 11.
[5] Ibid., p. 13.
[6] Ibid., p. 7.

Jennifer L. Crull is an IT Specialist with Public Interest Institute.

IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER is a monthly newsletter reporting on government transparency in our state.

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