By Sean Whaley, Nevad News Bureau: Nevada’s transparency website, where taxpayers can go to examine details of spending by state agencies, still does not include a critical component that would make the information more useful.
Budget limitations have put a plan to put contract information on the site in a searchable format on hold, said state Budget Director Andrew Clinger.
In the meantime, contracts approved by the Board of Examiners at each meeting are being posted on the Department of Administration’s website, he said. Because the information is in a PDF format however, it is not searchable, Clinger said.
But the information, which now includes descriptions of the contracts, the source of funding for the contract, and whether it is a sole source contract, is available for review, he said.
“Without additional funding at this point I’m not sure when we will be able to have the contracts posted in a fashion that is searchable and those types of things that make it even more transparent,” Clinger said. “It is still on our list of priorities. It just depends on the funding in the next session.”
The contracts approved by the Board of Examiners are also posted by the Nevada Policy Research Institute at its TransparentNevada website. The contracts are searchable by contractor, state agency or description going back to January of this year.
Gibbons issued a proclamation in March of 2008 requiring the creation of a transparency website “as soon as practicable.”
Called the Nevada Open Government Initiative, the proclamation specified the need for an “easily searchable database of financial transactions related to government budgets and expenditures . . .”
The site is up and operating and includes a searchable database where taxpayers can delve into detail showing actual payments to vendors. Searches can be performed by vendor name or by agency.
It has been criticized in the past by some for not being complete.
In a study grading the states on their transparency efforts on government spending released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group” in April, Nevada received a C and is listed as one of 25 “emerging states” with transparency websites that provide less comprehensive information.
Seven states: Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, Missouri and Pennsylvania, received As and Bs.
But Nevada was not far behind, earning a 78 score out of 100 and coming in at 10th in the rankings.
Nevada is identified in the report as being one of 25 states with “checkbook-level transparency allowing viewing of individual government transactions, akin to viewing the government’s checkbook.”
Two areas where Nevada failed to score well were related to contracts. Nevada received five of 10 points for the posting of contract information, and zero of five points for the posting of past contracts. Nevada’s site was penalized because the actual contracts cannot be viewed.
Contract information is a failing for most state websites, according to the study.
“Most transparency websites do not provide enough detailed information on government contracts. Even some of the leading websites provide only a short description (two to three words) of the purpose of the contracts.”
Nevada’s contract information is inconsistent, with some descriptions lengthier than a few words and others briefer. But the information has not yet been posted or linked to the governor’s transparency website. Instead it is found on the Department of Administration’s website.
The difficulty in finding information was another failing of many sites according to the study.
“Transparency websites should be one-click searchable,” the study said. “Residents should be able to search data with a single query or browse common-sense categories. Websites should also let residents sort data on government spending by recipient, amount, legislative district, granting agency, purpose, or keyword.”
“The good news is that state governments have become far more transparent about where the money goes,” said Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst for tax and budget policy at U.S. PIRG and co-author of the report. “But even the leading states have a lot of room for improvement.”
Nevada Budget Director Andrew Clinger says some contract information is now available:
Clinger says the Legislature will have to provide funding for a searchable contracts database: