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Illinois received a “B” for its government spending transparency website, according to “Following the Money 2018: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the eighth report of its kind by the Illinois PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group.
The report graded each state’s transparency website from “A” to “F” based on its content and user-friendliness. This year, for the first time, we worked with focus groups to see how well the ordinary Americans could navigate the sites. With that new standard, most states’ grades dropped from our previous report.
“When states are transparent about how they spend tax dollars, we all win: the state saves money, it can operate more efficiently and effectively, and citizens can feel more confident in their government,” said Abe Scar, Director of Illinois PIRG Education Fund. “That’s why Illinois should continue to invest in accessible, comprehensive, online spending data.”
The report found that many states’ websites lack features that make them intuitive for users, such as a full search function, standardized data descriptions and interactive tools.
Illinois qualifies as an “Advancing” state. Illinois has kept intact the transparency features that made it successful in the past. However, the state could easily improve the functionality of its site by allowing all its economic development subsidy data to be downloaded in bulk. If all spending data were downloadable in a .csv or .xlsx file, citizen watchdogs would be able to more easily analyze and track spending patterns from year to year. Illinois should also work to make its site more searchable and user-friendly, making it easier for citizens to find specific expenditures in the online checkbook.
“These sites can often be confusing for citizen users. Our focus groups put transparency websites to the test and found only a handful meet the expectations of a 21st century user.” said Rachel J. Cross, a Frontier Group analyst and report co-author.
Illinois officials reported that their transparency portal cost approximately $100,000 plus existing staff time at launch, and costs approximately $10,000 to maintain annually.
To read the full report: https://illinoispirgedfund.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/ILP%20FollowMoney%20Report%20Apr18_0.pdf
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