Selective Disclosure by State Government

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In November, the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First released a report called The State of State Disclosure, which surveyed the quantity and quality of state government transparency relating to subsidies, procurement contracts and lobbying.

In it, we mentioned that numerous states have been adopting new disclosure programs relating to public spending. These initiatives provide useful information but often fail to name names relating to subsidies and contracts. I have just completed a quick update of the transparency wave and found that the newest disclosure sites also have deficiencies.

Kansas’s KanView allows for searching of the names of vendors selling goods and services to any state agency. It covers the past two fiscal years. For now, though, the new site is less complete than the existing online database of the Kansas Department of Administration, which has a deeper archive and includes the full texts of contract awards.

While KanView allows for vendor searches throughout the state government, two other recent arrivals are more limiting. South Carolina’s Spending Transparency site simply provides total annual expenditures by agency. You can also view each agency’s monthly spending during the past year and drill down for details. This is more cumbersome than the existing state procurement website, which allows for general vendor-name searches.

Oklahoma’s new Open Books site also requires you to choose a specific agency or government function in order to view a list of vendors. The state already had an online list of recipients of recent contract awards as well as a list of statewide contracts, though the latter is not easily searchable by vendor name.

In short, it is unclear that the new transparency measures provide much in the way of additional information, especially in the ability to see which companies are making the most money out of their dealings with state governments. This limitation may be a reflection of the forces that are pushing for such transparency. They are led by the likes of Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform (whose website, by the way, has the most complete overview of legislative efforts on spending transparency).

Yes, the same Grover Norquist who was on the Daily Show the other night promoting his new book Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government’s Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives. For Norquist, transparency is apparently a tool in the effort to shrink government to its bare minimum. His priority seems to be highlighting the true extent of social spending rather than fully exposing those corporations that are milking the public sector through lucrative contracts.

The news is more encouraging on the subsidy disclosure front, where progressive groups are taking the lead and have brought about new transparency measures in states such as New Jersey and Wisconsin.

Note: this item is also being posted on Dirt Diggers Digest, the new blog of the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First.

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