When it comes to sharing information about spending online, New Jersey has a long way to go it be transparent.
The state received a score of 68 out of 100 and a grade of C- in the recent survey “Following the Money 2018: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data.” This is the eighth report of its kind produced by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.
While online government spending transparency continues to improve, many states, including New Jersey, still struggle to meet 21st century standards.
The report graded each state’s transparency website from “A” to “F” based on its content and user-friendliness. 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. Citizens tested the state websites and found that only a handful met the expectations of a 21st century user.
Eight states, led by Ohio and West Virginia, are leading in spending transparency online. These states have created user-friendly websites that provide visitors with accessible and comprehensive information on state spending. Citizens can access information on specific expenditures through easy-to-use features, including a multi-tiered search function that allows users to search for two or more criteria at once.
New Jersey’s online spending information is not considered user friendly, and the state, while providing “checkbook-like” data on spending, dies not include any statement about excluded expenditures with the information online.
“The public has a right to know how and when their tax dollars are being spent so that they can hold elected officials and civil servants accountable for ethical, effective stewardship of funds,” said Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation.
Transparency about spending can save money for taxpayers while restoring public confidence in government and preventing misspending and pay-to-play contracts.
“Most states put a lot of information online, but it’s completely unusable for an ordinary person,” said Michelle Surka, tax and budget campaign director with U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “If people can’t actually find the information they’re looking for, and understand it without a background in state bureaucracy, then it doesn’t matter how much data is online.”