It’s disappointing, though not surprising, that Gov. Rick Scott decided last week to allow a budget tracking website that Florida taxpayers have already paid for to remain on the shelf while the state pursues new bidders for the project. The governor talks a good game on transparency in government, but he often fails to follow through.
Spider Data Services developed Transparency 2.0 for use by the Senate and its staff to monitor spending and the budget after signing a $5 million contract with the Senate in February 2011. Open-government advocates lauded the result.
It allows the user to track every line item in the budget. According to a report by The Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau, “The system supplies planning and budget documents, and audit reports as well as contract information and links to personnel expenses. It also shows which contracts were inserted into the budget by legislative leadership, offers a comprehensive look at billions of dollars in outside contracts and allows for the public to track budget data that today is controlled by agency and legislative staff.”
Sounds like just what the Sunshine State needs — a thorough, user-friendly system that allows taxpayers to find out what their money is being used for. But even though the system was ready to launch in November 2011, it was never unveiled. Last May the Senate decided to transfer control to the governor, but he refused to touch it.
Nevertheless, Florida law directs the Executive Office of the Governor to provide a single budget transparency web site to the public. Unable to ignore the matter, Mr. Scott announced last week that the state would begin a new, competitive bidding process for a system that can “publish web-based, user-friendly budget data at the lowest cost to taxpayers.”
What for? Transparency 2.0 already exists, and it works — perhaps too well to suit some leaders in Tallahassee who prefer to operate in the shadows. The state does maintain a modest system, TransparencyFlorida.gov, but it has significant flaws. A Herald/Times review found 27,922 contracts listed as “confidential” even though many were available to the public through a public records request.
There is no excuse for not allowing taxpayers to have access to a system they’ve already paid for. The Legislature appropriated $2.5 million in the current budget to have the governor develop a transparency web site for public access, but that money could be used to pay Spider Data to maintain the system it developed for at least a couple of years, if not longer.
Under the terms of the original contract, the Senate leased access to the Transparency system but did not own it. That has led to complaints by some lawmakers, but there was no other source for the technology.
Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, calls such objections unreasonable. In a letter to Gov. Scott this month, he asked whether the state is establishing a new standard that would require companies like Microsoft or Google with patented intellectual property to transfer ownership of that property if they become vendors to the state of Florida, as has been requested of Spider Data. We doubt it.
The Legislature appropriated money for Transparency 2.0 and the law requires the state to create an effective website to permit citizen inspection of the budget. The governor has the authority and the funds to make this happen, not to mention the mandate under state law. The only thing that seems to be lacking is the will.