The Simplicity of Goverment Transparency

Published August 30, 2008

Governor Bobby Jindal’s short tenure in office has received extensive coverage from local and national media. And while several pieces of new legislation have garnered much attention, two important developments have gone largely unnoticed: Executive Order No. BJ 2008-2 and Senate Bill 37.

These new laws mandate the creation of a website where state spending will be posted and require increased transparency in state finances. Together, they signify that Louisiana is moving towards making all government spending information accessible via the internet.

By making its finances more transparent Louisiana will be joining a movement that is spreading across the nation. The federal government already has a website where its finances are posted. States including Texas, Missouri and Florida have all acted quickly to put their financial records online and many other states are in the process of doing the same.

Why is this so important? For one, our form of government requires an informed populace. But we are not fully informed if we don’t know where our tax dollars are being spent. Although some of this information is technically accessible, it is rarely presented in an understandable and user-friendly format. Now that we have the ability to create searchable, comprehensive websites we should insist on full disclosure.

In addition, making the financial operations of our government fully transparent will help to reduce the fraud and corruption that has so tarnished our state. Companies do not want to do business in Louisiana because of our reputation and as a result, many of Louisiana’s most talented people seek opportunity elsewhere.

Posting budgets and contracts on the web and creating virtual check registers would give anyone with internet access the ability to serve as a government watchdog. This would reduce fraud and waste while also demonstrating that Louisiana is committed to open and honest government.

We applaud Governor Jindal for moving in the right direction. But we can do more. For example, we should require every municipality, parish and school board to put its budget online. Those who pay the local government bills should also be able to see how their tax dollars are being spent. And the costs involved in creating these websites are surprisingly modest.

The Pelican Institute for Public Policy is committed to leading the effort for more transparency in government throughout Louisiana. In the coming months we will be educating legislators and officials, the media and the public on the merits of using the internet to achieve greater transparency. We will also help officials make use of innovative and efficient programs so they can create websites where spending information is disclosed in a useful and informative manner.

The old maxim that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” is particularly apt when it comes to government spending. Decades of fraud and waste have made Louisiana one of the worst places in the country to do business. If our state is going to prosper our government must allow its dealings to be seen by one and all. Governor Jindal appears to understand this – now it is time to find out who else shares this commitment to open and accountable government.