Issue Position: State Government Reform - Open-Book Government for North Carolina
"Google" Accountability on State Contracts and Grants
Each year state governments disburse billions of dollars in contracts to vendors and grants to organizations. During the 2005-2006 budget cycle, North Carolina awarded nearly 4000 grants and contracts totaling $606 million. State contracts range from such capital projects as schools, highways, and prisons, to such services as pension investment management and consulting.
Freedom of information laws do allow greater citizen access to government. But too often government officials drag their feet and even fail to comply with clearly justified document requests - in effect, treating public records like they are private property rather than owned by the people. Moreover, most citizens do not have time to monitor governmental activity and challenge government officials when they drag their feet. As the Dec 30, 2007 News and Observer piece entitled "Tracking government online" declared - "availability in today's age means online availability. If a document is available only in a government reading room it might as well not be available at all."
Bev Perdue agrees that the basic 21st century standard for citizen access to government should be what is retrievable on the web. Bev knows the best results occur when information is free and open to the public so that honest competition and critical review are achieved.
Bev especially knows that sunshine is also a great device for spending discipline. Contracts and grants that can't stand the light of day should not happen in the first place.
Last year the federal government enacted a law that provides a roadmap for states on how to inform citizens through the internet about government spending. Cosponsored by Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK), the bipartisan Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (S.2590) ordered the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to construct a publicly searchable website for all federal contracts and grants. The free, easy-to-use website (www.usaspending.gov) allows citizens to track the recipients of all federal funds by providing access to data on payments of more than $25,000.*
Following the federal lead, a number of states are now creating spending databases on the web. Such states as Hawaii, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas have passed legislation or have taken executive action to create new public databases. The public is increasingly turning to search engines like Google to access government services. In response, states have partnered with Google to make it easier to search for hard-to-find public information on state government websites. Google has helped state officials implement these website improvements at not cost to the states.
Google Accountability for North Carolina
As North Carolina's next Governor, Bev Perdue will make sure that North Carolina joins other leading states in establishing "Google" accountability for state contracts and grants. Through the newly created NC OpenBook website, North Carolinians will be able to search and download information detailing the state agency expenditures for all state contracts and grants.
In addition, each state agency that maintains a website will be required to include access to link to the NC OpenBook database on the homepage of the agency website.
Rather than searching through thousands of pages of budget documents, the NC OpenBook website will provide citizens with easily accessible information at their fingertips. In plain-English, NC OpenBook will require each state agency to report for each state contract and grant over $10,000:
* the name of the entity receiving the award;
* the amount of the award;
* information on the award including transaction type, funding agency, etc;
* the location of the entity receiving the award;
* background information on the entity receiving the award; and
* contact information for the responsible state government office for the contract or grant.
The NC OpenBook website will not cure all budget problems. Yet it will be an effective step in reducing unjustified government spending. If state contract and grant spending is reduced by only 10% as a result of NC OpenBook's transparency that would mean state government savings of $60 million annually.
And based on the experiences of other states, implementation of the site will not be expensive. According to The American Review of Public Administration, such an e-government innovation should "involve little or no marginal cost."
Under Bev Perdue's leadership NC OpenBook will be a major step in enhancing citizens' trust and participation in government. As experts at the IBM Center for the Business of Government have declared "Internet-based applications, or e-democracy, may prove ideal in this regard, as such innovations can help cultivate a governmental landscape in which information is more accessible, people feel more connected to government, and citizens are better able to participate in political processes."