(This post originally appeared on the States for a Transparent and Accountable Recovery blog).
Leda Perez’s recent column challenged the Rick Scott administration’s central justification for severely downgrading Florida’s Recovery Act website: that the website was “not used that much.” I’ve already touched on Perez’s column a bit, but she really got to the crux of the issue when she asked: “Should we eliminate [Freedom of Information access] because an insufficient number of people make requests? Or, should Congress or presidents simply be appointed because an insufficient number of people exercise their voting rights?”
Indeed, transparency, openness and accountability are essential democratic principles and governments should preserve tools that promote those principles no matter how infrequently they are used.
But even if it’s a poor defense for gutting the stimulus website, it is worth exploring the Scott administration’s claim that the website was “not used that much.” Perez referenced the “apparent selectivity in what public information remains available via web portals,” and that got us thinking: Just how many viewers did the Florida Recovery Act website attract before the Scott administration gutted it, and how does that compare to other state websites that are maintained at taxpayers’ expense?
We don’t know how the Scott administration evaluated the Recovery Act website beyond spokesman Brian Burgess’s statement on Twitter that “we actually analyzed hard visitor traffic data (at least what was available).” But here’s what that “hard visitor traffic data” shows, according to Compete.com, a company that tracks web traffic data: The website maintained by then-Governor Charlie Crist had between 1,296 and 5,501 unique visitors per month from April-November 2010, and averaged 2,907 monthly visitors during that period.
Those are hardly earth-shattering figures, but remember that those thousands of monthly visitors to the website consist of contractors looking to hire workers, people looking for jobs, public interest groups organizing around important causes and highly-engaged citizens who want to keep tabs on how their tax dollars are being spent. Each of these people only count as one visitor, but depending on how they use the website it could have a big impact on their companies, families, neighbors, and even entire communities.
Then there’s the “selectivity” issue that Perez raised. The traffic figures for the stimulus website that Scott dismantled are comparable to plenty of other state websites that haven’t been taken down. Here are some examples:
- The Florida Department of Education’s student reading initiative, justreadflorida.com, had between 2,165 and 8,567 unique visitors per month over the last year, for an average of 4,976 monthly unique visitors since April 2010.
- The website for the Florida Public Service Commission, an agency working to ensure that “Florida’s consumers receive some of their most essential services — electric, natural gas, telephone, water, and wastewater — in a safe, affordable, and reliable manner,” had between 1,598 and 8,873 unique visitors per month from April 2010 to April 2011. The website averaged 4,343 unique visitors per month during that time period.
- The state of Florida’s disaster preparedness website, mysafeflorida.org, had between 2,134 and 5,492 unique visitors per month over the last year, and an average of 3,766 monthly unique visitors since April 2010.
- The website for the Florida Sports Foundation, the state’s official sports promotion and development organization, had between 2,045 and 6,524 unique visitors per month during the last year, for an average of 3,899 monthly unique visitors since April 2010.
None of this is to suggest that these sites should be taken down. But why won’t the Scott administration treat the Recovery Act with as much taxpayer respect as the state treats consumer protection, child literacy, hurricane preparedness and the Florida sports industry?