Idaho Gets A Failing Grade For Government Transparency

Apr 8, 2014

Credit U.S. PIRG

Idaho is one of three states with a failing grade when it comes to government transparency, as ranked by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer interest group.

Idaho, California and Alaska flunked PIRG's 2014 assessment of state government transparency. That's after Idaho launched its website, Transparent Idaho, last year. In 2013, PIRG gave Idaho a C for transparency.

Senior analyst at U.S. PIRG Phineas Baxandall says Idaho falls short when it comes to searchability of the website, and little to no information is available online about the state's economic development programs. Idaho did score some points for making more data downloadable.

"It's one thing to have information up somewhere on the web, and if you’re an expert and you know what agency to drill down on – that’s helpful, but typically people don’t," says Baxandall. He says Idaho's grade could be improved if data on Transparent Idaho was searchable by keyword.

When it comes to economic development programs, only one, the Workforce Development Training Fund, is subject to disclosure under Idaho's public records laws. Other business incentive programs, like Idaho's various business tax credits, are excluded from disclosure.

Idaho's chief deputy State Controller Dan Goicoechea says his agency launched Transparent Idaho in 2013 without any additional funding from the state. The goal, says Goicoechea, was to give Idahoans a self-guided tour of the state's finances.

"We have no one kicking in our door for any of this information," he says. "Bottom line, no one in Idaho is going without the information they're entitled to."

Goicoechea acknowledges the state controller's office has its limitations when it comes to beefing up its online transparency portal, that's mostly because the website isn't getting new funding to expand or develop additional tools.

U.S. PIRG says it's important to understand it continues to "ratchet up" what's expected of states in its annual grading, as the public's expectation of what information should be available grows, and technological capabilities continue to make data gathering and presentation easier.

A wide range of information is available instantly in the palm of your hand. For example, smartphones can now send you restaurant suggestions and then give you a map of how to get there. Less than five years ago, that technology wasn't available to most people. PIRG's Phineas Baxandall says government data shouldn't be treated much differently. "The public expectation ratchets up every year and our report tries to reflect that," he says.

Still, Goicoechea says Idaho is doing a good job of making information available to the public.

“It is the citizen’s information, they should be able to easily query these things, and we believe right now they are," Goicoechea says.

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