January 11, 2013 in Idaho

Idaho unveils transparency site

Public information will be easily searchable
By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – Idaho’s governor and state controller unveiled a new state government transparency website Thursday, with extensive data about the state’s finances and workforce that’s automatically updated every night.

“We’ve always provided our public information whenever it’s requested, but this allows the citizens to quickly get to it without having to come through the office,” said state Controller Brandon Woolf, who at 40 is the youngest statewide official in Idaho. “They get right to the data.”

Perhaps most remarkably, the site was set up within the controller’s existing budget – with no additional appropriation of state funds.

“Compared to other states, they have spent millions to do their state transparency websites,” Woolf said. “To this point, we have done it within our existing budget.”

The new transparent.idaho.gov site features myriad charts and graphs, tons of detail to dig through, and is searchable by cross-tabs including agency and county. “There’s thousands and thousands of reports that are available and that are out there now,” Woolf said.

Gov. Butch Otter compared it to public records requests “on steroids,” and said it’ll put state financial data “just a click away.” He called the new site “a very important big step in transparency in state government.”

“We’ve been able to enable the existing technology that we have in our office,” Woolf explained, including a data warehouse that has financial, personnel and payroll data the state controller receives from state agencies. “So when state agencies key in financial information, personnel or payroll information, it’s updated nightly as it goes through the process into our systems and into the data warehouse, and eventually to the website.”

Woolf, who has a political science degree and a master of business administration, has worked at the controller’s office since starting as an intern in 1997. He was named chief of staff in 2011 and was appointed state controller in October.

Woolf said the transparency site is a work in progress and doesn’t yet have a capability he’d like to see: A searchable, online version of the state’s checkbook, enabling citizens to look up how much an agency spent on a particular vendor. That will require an additional investment, which he may request next year “if there’s an opportunity down the road to make it a more useful tool for the citizens.”


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