RIOpenGov Strives to Fill Transparency Void

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The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has posted state payroll information to its transparency Web site, RIOpenGov.org.  The site lists all state employees by name, department, and division, and presents their pay, including overtime, for the years 2010 and 2011.

The Ocean State Current drew some attention to this data last week, with reports on the high pay of nurses and laundry workers, as well as high overtime payments across state government.

The articles also drew attention because of the difficulty they describe when it came to getting access to the data. Working with its transparency partner, Visible Government Online, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity spent nearly a year in back-and-forth exchanges with the state, and its request was ultimately denied.  Ultimately, the spreadsheets came from Watchdog New England, an investigative reporting project of Northeastern University.

Unfortunately, Northeastern only had data for 2010 and 2011, and its information did not include the cost of benefits.  The Center knows all of this information to be available to the public and will post it as the state provides it.

Also conspicuous on Northeastern’s page is a now-defunct link to the 2009 payroll information that once was available on the transparency site of the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition (RISC), which is now RI Taxpayers.  The loss of RISC’s Money Trail site, as well as the Ocean State Policy Research Institute (OSPRI) Transparency Train site illustrates the difficulty not only of getting such information, but also of maintaining the tools to offer the public access to it.

It shouldn’t be this difficult.

If the expenditures of taxpayer dollars are being made as efficiently as they should be, and if every apparent excess has a reasonable explanation, government officials should be eager to present the information in a clear, digestible format as an opportunity to explain the unique constraints that it faces.  Anything short of that approach is apt to give the impression that things are going on that cannot be explained.

In the meantime, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity will continue to work to gather the information and maintain the infrastructure to grant the people of Rhode Island the access they deserve.



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