Nebraska is ranked in the top 10 states for providing online access to government spending data in the latest ratings released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), State Treasurer Don Stenberg said today.
The Nebraska state transparency website, NebraskaSpending.gov, which by law is maintained by the State Treasurer's Office, received a B+ rating in 2013, according to ratings released this week. Nebraska has consistently raised its grade each year, from a D in 2010, to a C in 2011, to a B in 2012 and now to a B+. Nebraska received a point total of 88 out of 100 in 2013, making Nebraska the 10th best in the country. Texas received an A with the highest point total of 96. Six states received letter grades of A-. Nebraska was one of three states receiving letter grades of B+.
"I am very pleased with this latest independent assessment of our efforts to provide easily accessible, complete state financial information to the public," Treasurer Stenberg said. "One area we still need to improve on is disclosure of Economic Development Tax Credits, Grants and Public Benefits of Economic Development. We are continuing to work with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development to make this information available on our website," Stenberg said.
"In addition, one of my top priorities this year is to put all state contracts online. To do that, I have been working with Sen. Sue Crawford on LB429 and testified in support of that bill earlier this year," Stenberg said.
LB429, introduced in the 2013 legislative session by Sen. Crawford of Bellevue, would require state agencies and departments to provide electronic copies of contracts to the Department of Administrative Services. A link to the DAS contract information would be provided at NebraskaSpending.gov, under the proposed legislation.
"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.
"Over the last year, my office has made significant efforts to be as comprehensive as possible about the kinds of spending we disclose, such as including currently available data on economic development grants. We also have added information about how the public can go about filing Freedom of Information Requests for state government information. Our website also provides links to tax incentive programs through the State Revenue Department," Stenberg said. U.S. PIRG also noted that Nebraska received points for including checkbook information about off-budget agencies, in particular the Nebraska Corn Board, a quasi-public agency.
Website usage has improved as well, Stenberg said, noting a 41 percent increase in visits to the website in the last year. Visits to the website have averaged 2,306 a month, up from an average of 1,635 a month in 2012.
In its fourth annual study, U.S. PIRG, a non-partisan public interest advocacy organization, evaluated each of the 50 states on spending transparency and assigned each state a grade ranging from A to F. The results were compiled in the U.S. PIRG Education Fund's report, "Following the Money 2013: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data." U.S. PIRG is not affiliated with the U.S. government.
"Since last year's ‘Following the Money' report, there has been remarkable progress across the country with new states providing online access to government spending information and several states pioneering new tools to further expand citizens' access to this data," U.S. PIRG said in a news release. Officials from 48 states, including Nebraska, provided researchers with feedback on their initial evaluation of transparency websites.
Nebraska and the eight other states that fell into the B range (B+, B and B-) were called Advancing States by the rating organization. The seven states that received A or A- letter grades were referred to as Leading States. 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.
U.S. PIRG said the Advancing States' spending checkbooks were easy to access and covered many of the states' expenditures. The rating agency also said the following about Advancing States: "With the exception of spending on economic development tax credits, all expenditures available online are searchable, allowing residents to easily locate specific spending data. All Advancing States provide checkbook-level information on grants, which are often awarded through processes separate from contract awards. Also, all Advancing States, with the exception of Washington, provide spending information from quasi-public agencies."
The full report can be read at http://www.uspirg.org/reports/usf/following-money-2013.