Austin opens its books via financial portal
When citizens of Austin, Texas, wanted greater, more dynamic, access to the city’s financial information, the Financial Services Department worked with businesses, the vendor community, citizens and city officials to develop the Austin Finance Online (AFO) portal.
AFO was expected to provide detailed financial information to people who are not financial professionals in a variety of formats -- graphical, tabular, list -- and still deliver accessible, secure, portable, auditable and searchable data that both the city staff and community could use.
The city also wanted to minimize maintenance, reduce open records requests and provide its vendors with a picture of their entire commercial relationship with Austin.
After determining that no commercial product was available to meet its needs, the city opted to build AFO in-house without adding any hardware components or software licenses to the existing IT environment.
The components of AFO were built and deployed in phases. Work began in November 2009 on the first module of AFO, the Contract Catalog, which provides a current listing of more than 2,200 city contracts and lets the user drill down into the detail of active purchase order contracts and multi-year term contracts.
An eCheckbook component allows finance staff or community users explore the government’s accounting structure. Users can see expense categorizations, payee, payment request and purchase orders for each expenditure. Static check and payroll registers are also available.
Further, the Vendor Connection allows vendors see detail about all of their purchase orders and term contracts with the city as well as payments made to them. Prime contractors can also view payments they reported making to their subcontractors, and subcontractors can view all payments that primes have reported making to them.
The resulting system provides a single destination for financial information and can easily be modified for additional features. As a result, Austin Finance Online has become the city’s second most visited site, saving substantial staff time and greatly reducing the number of public information requests.
The city will be looking for commercial partners to help deploy its intellectual property so that any jurisdiction with an interest in financial transparency — regardless of financial system, technology investment or staff support — can use AFO’s library of developments. If successful, Austin could get a return on its investment and become a model for other entities looking for financial transparency.