By Jeff Atwater
Since groundbreaking legislation in 1909 and again in 1967, Florida’s government has proudly promoted openness for most of our history. As new tools become available through technology to promote greater transparency and accountability, we must be prepared to embrace them and honor our longstanding tradition of government in the sunshine.
During my first two years as CFO, we have made great strides in showing Floridians how their tax dollars are being spent. I launched Transparency Florida, which contains comprehensive state budget information, checkbook-level expenditure reporting and a Florida Citizen Profile called Your Money Matters. Last year, we added the Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System (FACTS), a comprehensive online tool that, for the first time, makes state contracting processes transparent through a centralized, statewide contract reporting system. But there is still much more to be done, and a system almost as old as the state’s open government laws is standing in the way.
The state’s accounting system, called FLAIR, came online in 1981, more than 30 years ago. Can you remember what a computer looked like 30 years ago? In 1981, most Americans didn’t have computers in their homes, much less Internet or mobile devices. Due to the limitations of this outdated system, we are unable to provide policymakers or the public with information on how state agencies expend funds or how costs for services vary between programs or state agencies.
We are also finding it difficult to impossible to hire staff who can update or program FLAIR. The accounting system is written in an outdated language that is no longer used or even taught in school. In the technology world, this would be equivalent to trying to find staff who speak Latin. These and many other challenges associated with this outdated technology make FLAIR costly to update and maintain.
I am in a position to do something about this albatross, and I am willing to take on the challenge on behalf of the taxpayers of this state in an effort to move toward a system that has the capability to provide greater transparency. FLAIR has been outdated for years, and others have attempted to do something about it. They have provided examples of mistakes that we will avoid, because the time has come to free ourselves from the restrictions of this outdated, outmoded system.
Editor’s Note: Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, a statewide elected official and officer of the Florida Cabinet, oversees the Department of Financial Services including the Division of Insurance Fraud. CFO Atwater’s priorities include fighting financial fraud, abuse, and waste in government; reducing government spending and regulatory burdens that chase away businesses and providing transparency and accountability in spending.