New Transparency Initiative Opens Government Checkbooks

Jul 9, 2012

Information about how taxpayer’s money is being spent can be just a few mouse clicks away. There’s a growing government transparency movement that Massachusetts appears to be in front of  to give the public a clearer look at how their money is spent.  WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.

      The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and its largest cities now feature so-called “ open checkbooks” on their websites.  An “open checkbook” is a searchable data base that details such things as public employee payrolls and payments for services and short  it’s a registry of just about every check a government writes.

      Pam Wilmot, executive director of  Massachusetts Common Cause says the “ open checkbook” is not a political  gimmick

      Massachusetts, at the direction of State Treasurer Steven Grossman put its checkbook on line for public access last Spring.  The cities of Boston and Worcester followed suit, and now, recently, the city of Springfield  announced the launch of the “ open checkbook”  link on the city’s website.

      Springfield City Counicil President James Ferrera says it brings full transparency and accountability to city government.

      The  city’s budget has been available on line for public review for many years.

      Springfield’s Chief  Information Officer Andrew Doty says it did not cost the city any additional expense to create the on line  data base and it will be maintained in-house.

      The city cuts about 500 checks a week, and issues 5500 pay roll checks bi-weekly, according to City Comptroller Patrick Burns, who says until now it would be difficult for the average person to find out details about what the city was paying for and to whom it was being paid.

      Massachusetts state  government has been a leader in making data available on the internet, according to Charlie Schweik, an associate professor at the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts. He points to geographic and census data that has been available on line for years.

      He says the open checkbooks should be  beneficial to government watchdog groups.

      Schweik says to what extent the information gleaned from the  “ open checkbooks”  sparks public debate could have an influence on shaping public policy.