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Colorado receives a “C+” for the level of transparency and ease of use of the state’s main website for accessing government spending data according to a new report by the CoPIRG Foundation and Frontier Group. Colorado received 78 out of 100 points, which ranked it 20th in the country for online government spending transparency. Colorado missed points around ease of use and the disclosure levels around economic development subsidies.
"The public has a right to know how and when their tax dollars are being spent so that they can hold elected officials and civil servants accountable for ethical, effective stewardship of funds,” said Danny Katz, Director of CoPIRG Foundation. “While Colorado is providing the basic information, more needs to be done to increase the comprehensiveness of the information and to make finding the information more intuitive and easy.”
This is the eighth iteration of the CoPIRG Foundation and Frontier Group report, which was first released in 2010. The two groups highlight in the report how top-flight transparency web portals save money for taxpayers, while also restoring public confidence in government and prevent misspending and pay-to-play contracts.
The report graded each state’s transparency website from “A” to “F” based on its content and user-friendliness. This year, a new criteria aimed at evaluating transparency portals’ user-friendliness revealed that while states continue to provide more information online about their spending, the usability and accessibility of that data in too many states like Colorado lags behind.
As tools around the transparency of online government spending data advance, CoPIRG Foundation and Frontier Group have increased the bar for earning a good grade. States must not only provide a one-stop website with comprehensive information but must constantly work to improve user-friendliness of their websites. In 2018, many states saw their scores drop, including Colorado which dropped from an “A-“ in 2016 to a “C+”, because it failed to keep up with the new advances.
Colorado received the maximum allowable points for having a one-stop, state spending website with checkbook level details on spending, including economic development subsidies. Colorado lost points because the spending transparency website lacks functional multi-tiered search options, has some challenges around downloading data, and fails to disclose the actual public benefits of economic development subsidies.
Colorado also missed points in the “real world” test, a new section of the report where focus group participants attempted to find specific spending details, for example the amount spent on postage by the public pension office, the amount spent on fuel by the agriculture department, the amount spent on electricity by the corrections department and the amount contracted out for legal services by the Attorney General’s office.
“If an ordinary citizen can’t actually find the information they’re looking for, and understand it without needing a background in state bureaucracy, then it doesn’t matter how many data sets are put online,” said Rachel J. Cross, a Frontier Group analyst and report co-author. “Many states are realizing that in order to serve their residents, they need to do more than just dump data online-- they need to provide a useful tool for understanding how state dollars are spent.”
Ohio and West Virginia topped the rankings this year, tying for the highest score. After earning a “D-” in 2014, Ohio has received an “A+” every year since. West Virginia has undergone a similarly meteoric rise. After earning a “C” in 2015’s report, the state jumped a full letter grade in 2016 before climbing to the top of rankings in this year’s report. Since 2016, West Virginia has launched a robust and user-friendly site complete with comprehensive information about the state’s major subsidy programs.
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