After 15 months in office, State Treasurer Don Stenberg has made significant improvements to the state’s transparency website, www.NebraskaSpending.gov, and has seen its overall grade jump from a D to a B in the latest ratings released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG).
“The NebraskaSpending.gov website is a wealth of accurate, detailed, and relevant information that provides perspective and accountability for Nebraska taxpayers. My office has taken significant steps to make the information organized and easy for users to access and to provide as much detail as possible, in line with my strong belief in open government and government transparency,” Treasurer Stenberg said.
Usage has improved as well, Stenberg said, noting a 30 percent increase in traffic to the website in the last six months. Website analysts described use of the website as moderate, but showing good growth, the Treasurer said. Visits to the website have averaged about 1,635 a month.
U.S. PIRG, a non-partisan public interest advocacy organization, also noted improvement, assigning a letter grade of B to Nebraska for government spending transparency. Nebraska was one of 14 states to fall into the B range, called “advancing states,” by the rating organization. Seven states, referred to as “leading states,” received letter grades of A in the U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s third annual report, titled “Following the Money 2012: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data.” U.S. PIRG is not affiliated with the U.S. government.
In assigning Nebraska’s grade, U.S. PIRG evaluated the breadth of information provided on NebraskaSpending.gov and the ease with which users can search the website. NebraskaSpending.gov is a public website that provides information about state government receipts and expenditures and, by law, is maintained by the State Treasurer’s Office.
Nebraska’s grade of 83 out of 100 in 2012 reflected significant improvement, up from a letter grade of C in 2011 and a letter grade of D in 2010. Texas received 98, the highest score assigned by the group. Nebraska ranked 15th.
“The improved score recognizes the major steps we have taken over the last 15 months to make NebraskaSpending.gov easier to use and to make the information on the website more timely and complete,” said Treasurer Stenberg. “One of the most important changes we made was to update information monthly, rather than yearly, as had been the practice. A second important change was to add a list of contracts searchable by agency and by vendor. What’s just as significant is that this added workload has been accomplished efficiently without additional expenditures in our office, with our existing staff and with funds from our existing budget.”
Stenberg said the following technical changes have made the website easier to use:
The U.S. PIRG Education Fund evaluated states’ transparency websites and assigned each state a grade, ranging from A to F. The “leading states” with the most comprehensive transparency websites, according to the report, in addition to Texas, are Kentucky, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and Arizona.
“The report describes Nebraska as an ‘advancing state’ because it has established a transparency website that is user-friendly and searchable, but lacks the breadth of information characteristic of leading states’ websites. For example, the state’s website lacks contracts for all expenditures and does not provide comprehensive information on state grants and economic awards,” according to U.S. PIRG.
The State Treasurer’s Office has added a list of contracts to the website and has included a link to the Department of Administrative Services to view contracts negotiated through the state Purchasing Division. However, contracts executed by each agency, board and commission are usually retained at those offices and aren’t stored by the Treasurer’s Office, the Treasurer noted.
U.S. PIRG identified three standards for transparent government websites:
The full report can be read at: www.uspirg.org/reports/usp/following-money-2012