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Idaho state controller upgrades open government website

An Idaho official says a new upgrade to the state’s open-data transparency website will make it easier for people to get a look at the state’s financial information.

The Transparent Idaho website is updated every night and has information about state employee salaries, payments made on state contracts, expenditures on travel and more. The upgrade, expected to go live on June 1, will include improved research tools, charts and other graphics.

Residents will be able to review everything from which agency spent the most on pizza to who has the highest salaries in each county, Idaho State Controller Brandon Woolf said.

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

Woolf said public trust in government has been dropping for decades and increased transparency could help restore it. The effort also should help deter fraud, increase accountability and provide data that can help policymakers make decisions, he said.

“When something is dark, people think there may be a conspiracy behind it,” he said. “If we can shine that light into those corners, we can take that away.”

There has been mixed reaction among state agencies. One agency believed that some public information was confidential, while another was surprised to learn that state employee salaries have long been public, Woolf said.

“Some of the resistance was just being nervous at first about sharing,” said Joshua Whitworth, Woolf’s chief of staff. “Once they realize that the information is shareable by law, they’re fine.”

As with any data repository, information should be interpreted carefully, Woolf’s office said.

Whitworth used an example of a reporter in another state who discovered funds were spent at Victoria’s Secret, a lingerie retailer. On further review, it was revealed that Victoria’s Secret simply owned a billboard which the state used for advertising.

Woolf said the intent of the upgrade is not to catch specific employees or agencies. It’s simply allowing residents to know how their funds are spent.

“We’re truly trying to help change a culture,” he said.

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