Utah uses Web sites to meet public demand for transparency

GCN Awards Utah finance sites get up and running on a slim budget, using open-source toolsThe Utah Public Finance Web site project arose from a public desire for openness in government. As is often the case in government, access to Utah state public information had involved submitting inquiries on paper to agencies. Agency personnel would then postpone other work to attend to these inquiries as needed. The process was lengthy, inefficient, and often unhelpful, yielding results that were not what the original requester required. Interactive investigation was difficult, if not impossible.

Several civic organizations, including the Sutherland Institute, recommended changing the system to reveal more about public finance in a simpler way. “Public officials see the value in transparency,” said Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association. Such transparency helps to make government more efficient and allows citizens to better understand how government works, he said. Utah state Sen. Wayne Niederhauser sponsored the original bill to establish the Utah Public Finance Web site project.

The resulting site has drawn praise for its ease of use, the volume of information it offers, and the low cost of its development. “This is one of the most robust Web sites that any state has done,” Van Tassell said.

Several other states, including Missouri, Oklahoma and Alaska, offer Web-based access to public financial information, and more states are interested in implementing similar projects, as part of a convergence of Web and database technology with an increasing desire to monitor government spending.

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