By: Jeff Atwater
As Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, it is my duty to be a watchdog for how our government spends the $77 billion state budget, but 20 million watchdogs are better than one. Inefficiencies in your government rob you of your hard-earned money, and access to information makes it easier to determine where the inefficiencies are. My commitment is to help you keep more of your money in your pocket by making Florida’s finances the most open and transparent in the country.
And we are well on our way.
When I took office in 2011, Florida’s transparency grade—assigned by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (or PIRG)—was a miserable D. By focusing on getting you the information you deserve, we’ve brought Florida from a D to an A- and expect to improve again this year. According to PIRG, Florida is now the third-most-transparent state in the nation.
We achieved this rapid improvement through my office’s development of the Transparency Florida website, a web portal that offers Floridians a new level of transparency and the ability to hold their elected officials accountable for government spending. With the click of a mouse, you can find detailed information about state contracts, state payments, and even local government budgets.
You should not have to be a CPA or an economist to know what your government does with your money, which is why I continuously push to make this important information easier to understand. Using graphs, charts, and summaries of complex financial data, we help taxpayers get the information they need to keep their government honest.
It is not enough to make information available through public records laws—it is about making it accessible. One example of my commitment to accessibility is the development of the Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System, or FACTS. Initially, FACTS held summaries of government contracts, which was a never-before-seen level of government transparency in Florida. But that was not nearly enough. Since then, FACTS has expanded to include not just summaries, but also detailed descriptions of 65,277 state contracts and grant agreements. Further still, we have begun to include the documents themselves, and 61% of contracts and grants are now available for download at the FACTS website. I am committed to making it easy–not just possible–to see what your government is doing and what deals it’s making with your money.
Although I do not expect most people to download state contracts for a riveting leisure read, I am thrilled about our continued march toward openness and accessibility. Here is why: This unprecedented transparency has already saved Floridians millions of dollars. Our FACTS website has made government contracts visible, available and easy to access, creating more competition for contracts and saving Floridians $40 million last year from the renegotiation or negotiation of contracts. And we are saving Floridians’ money and time by providing ready access to frequently requested information, thus eliminating the need to provide documents in response to each individual request.
This week is Sunshine Week, which highlights the importance of openness in government. So I invite you to explore the Transparency Florida website this week and see for yourself how we are fundamentally changing the relationship between government and the people it serves. I will continue to fight for transparency of Florida’s finances because Floridians deserve to easily see how their government does business. And you should not have to fill out forms or go through tedious bureaucracy to know how Florida spends your money.
Jeff Atwater is CFO of the State of Florida. The Transparency Florida website is available at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/transparency