Florida taxpayers have spent $5 million on a budget transparency portal called Transparency 2.0 that promised to herald a new era for citizen access to the state’s informational stores.
Currently, questions remain as to whether the public will ever be able to use the program, which is ready to go but has sat unused for a year and a half.
Gov. Rick Scott followed a 2011 mandate to create a budget transparency website that would force state government to play cards face up. A no-bid contract to build the site was awarded to Spider Data Systems, which received $5 million to build the site. The contract with Spider Data lapsed in December, under the noses of the Florida Senate, and this has caused concern and confusion with two public watchdog groups.
The Tallahassee-based Florida First Amendment Foundation co-published a lengthy report on the program’s status last December with the research group Integrity Florida. The groups also sent Scott a letter urging the governor to get the system working. said Barbara Petersen, the First Amendment Foundation's president, remains optimistic. "I’m confident that although the Senate failed to renegotiate the Transparency 2.0 contract, there will be a new and fully functional transparency website available to the public within the year,” Petersen says.
The program would save millions of dollars, according to Petersen, as well as boost the state’s letter grade to an A for public access on government spending. Last year, Florida received a D grade on its online access report card, according to a U.S. Public Interest Group study titled Following the Money 2012.
Citizens should contact their Florida lawmakers to signal the importance of having budget transparency as well as public access to information, Petersen advocates. She adds that
Florida state senators Jeremy Ring and Don Gaetz, two proponents of budget transparency, are working hard to make the website available to taxpayers. "The current portal has lapsed due to the very flawed agreement with Spider Data,” wrote Ring in an email on Feb. 14.
Ring added that the Florida Senate is currently working with other state agencies who have developed transparency websites to create a more “efficient, user friendly and open portal for the citizens of the state.”
“Further legislative directive will be forthcoming through legislation which will be filed shortly,” wrote Ring, who wants to ensure that Florida “leads the nation in transparency and providing information in the sunshine.”
In the meantime, watchdog groups and supporters are hopeful that Florida lawmakers will flip the switch on the Transparency 2.0 website. Doing so will increase government efficiency while keeping the state’s citizens well informed.
Theo Karantsalis is a librarian and an open government activist. He is a member of the First Amendment Foundation's Sunshine Brigade. As a freelancer for the Miami Herald, Theo enjoys writing historical and civic features related to Miami's inner city. Find him on Twitter, @springyleaks.