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Ohio’s New Financial Transparency Site

Government Technology wrote an article last week, Ohio Offers Financial Transparency Statewide, which reported on Ohiocheckbook.com, Ohio’s first interactive financial transparency dashboard that helps citizens and officials track government spending. Ohiocheckbook.com will contain financial data from 3,900 Ohio cities, counties and government entities online in accessible, searchable form. Citizens will have access to this information when the site is launched late June 2015.

Ohio’s new financial website is a part of a larger initiative announced by Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel to provide greater transparency by the state. Over the past 4 months since the debut of Ohiocheckbook.com the state’s financial transparency rating from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) has jumped from 46th to first in the nation.

As quoted in the article, Mandel said, “I think there’s going to be a lot of public pressure from citizens for every local government to get their finances online.”

Over the past couple years there has been increased pressure for government to increase financial transparency to the public. President Obama signed the Digital Accountability Act in 2014 and issued an executive order in 2013 for federal agencies to publish all financial data.

Many states have adopted similar transparency policies. The consumer advocacy group, U.S. PIRG, issued a report Following the Money 2015 that graded each of the 50 US states. Grades were based on transparency efforts such as information made available to the public and the functionality the websites provided. States such as Florida, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon and Ohio scored very favorably. Ohio’s A+ score was due to its Ohiocheckbook.com functionality of offering citizens a single portal for all information, advanced single-click search functionality, and comprehensive data that includes spending by quasi-government agencies and public-private partnerships.

Mandel is quoted in the article How Does Your State Rank for Financial Data Transparency, “I believe taxpayers have a right to know how their tax money is being spent, and I think the best way to make government more efficient is to empower citizens to hold politicians accountable.” Mandel continues, “My vision is to create an army of citizen watchdogs and in just three months, we’ve had over 130,000 searches. So I think the politicians and other government workers have been put on notice that people are watching.”


Government Transparency

The topic of government transparency has always been a key point when discussing how government agencies interact with the public. Over the course of this year there have been many public agencies that have received attention on this subject. People question how governments manage budgets, procurement and contractors.

The Government Development Research Center recently wrote: “Transparency is an important aspect of good governance, and transparent decision making is critical for the private sector to make sound decisions and investments. Accountability and the rule of law require openness and good information so higher levels of administration, external reviewers and the general public can verify performance and compliance to law.

“Governments have access to a vast amount of important information. Dissemination of this information through transparency and open information systems can provide specific information that firms and individuals need to have to be able to make good decisions. Capital markets depend for example on information openness.”

Michael Norton and Ryan Buell of Harvard Business School conducted a study last year to determine how Americans would react to a more open government. What they found was quite interesting.

One of the most telling discoveries was participants’ perception of government based on how much information they were given about government activities. The results showed that when participants were given detailed information about which problems the government was addressing, rather than just simple statistics, their attitudes improved significantly. For instance, when asked the question “In general, is the government’s effect on your life positive or negative?” 91 percent of study participants said the effect was positive after they were given details of government activities, which was significantly higher than when participants had only basic information to make their judgment.

There is an expectation of transparency in government procurement. This includes fair procurement practices, proper vendor management, appropriate cooperative procedures and easy-to-use systems. Government agencies need to be able to show what practices they have adopted to ensure that the procurement process is well managed and fair. Transparency is a two-way street. Businesses and contractors need visibility into regulations and requirements and government agencies need ready access to documentation that shows contractor performance and compliance.

We encourage members of all government agencies, including state and municipal agencies, to adopt a statement President Obama made in an address on the topic of NSA spying. During the speech, the president stated that “we can and should be more transparent in how government uses its authority.” As government agencies strive for greater transparency, they will see greater trust and openness from business leaders in return.

“Governments have access to a vast amount of important information. Dissemination of this information through transparency and open information systems can provide specific information that firms and individuals need to have to be able to make good decisions. Capital markets depend for example on information openness.”


Florida’s Local Preference Law

Based on targeted survey data and analysis, Mary Pace, CPPO, CPPB, Procurement Manager with City of Punta Gorda, FL gained a unanimous vote by the City Council to eliminate the City’s local preference law. This speaks volumes for the importance of facts and figures (procurement data) to support key public procurement policy positions. With the continued increase in data availability the increase in the use of data to fully examine policy decisions is becoming increasingly important and necessary. Public procurement officials should remember this situation and success, when faced with policy decisions in their own organizations.


Turning It Around: How One School District Will Overcome Purchasing Challenges

Floyd County Schools in Rome, GA recently uncovered questionable purchasing practices within its procurement functions.

While the criminal investigation is ongoing, the school system is proactively changing its practices to ensure all resources are appropriated for the benefit of every student.

To achieve the highest level of purchasing security and integrity, the school system will meet this week with Periscope Holdings, a nationally respected company in the area of purpose-driven purchasing and expenditure tracking, to put in place new policies and procedures to safeguard funds intended for the education of Floyd County Schools students.

Periscope is widely used by government entities and school systems across the country to protect the integrity of purchasing practices.  Periscope currently works with some of the largest school systems and government agencies in the state of Georgia.

Experts from Periscope will immediately begin a review of the purchasing records and practices of Floyd County Schools and will collaborate with administration to institute revised and improved purchasing procedures.

Floyd County Schools Administration and the Board of Education will also move to streamline the system organizational structure to enhance the upgraded policies and procedures recommended by Periscope to ensure the effective use of all education funds for children.


Springtime Means Transformation Time

It’s April and spring time and everyone is ready for warm weather and sunny skies.  With spring, comes the end of the Fiscal Year for many public sector entities.  This is the time where entities are attempting to spend their budget dollars that have been “saved” throughout the Fiscal Year.  Usually the purchases at the end of the Fiscal Year are for items such as computers or furniture; but sometimes the needed purchase can be more involved, requiring formal competition and limit time for delivery or completion.  One such example I recall was for demolition services for an abandoned facility.   A formal solicitation was required for the construction services with limited time for the competition and completion of the services.  It is this type of situation where Procurement Officers are the most creative to remain legal and meet the client demands.  It is also following these types of situations, that we must sit back and reflect on the strategic opportunities and changes that can assist in the delivery of procurement services in the future.  Such solutions may be a change on the competitive threshold requirements, or the number of days for solicitation posting, or alternative delivery methods procurement authority, or new technology or deployment of different sourcing strategies.  These types of situations where we’re required to be the most creative are the same situations that assist us in moving our operation forward….for increased transformation.


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