Brandon Woolf for State Controller

Improving Government Transparency

At the founding of our republic, our nation’s forefathers grasped the importance of making the financial dealings of our fledgling nation open to scrutiny. Though they could not imagine the technological advances of the coming years, they understood it was the citizens’ government and the citizens’ money. Citizens deserved then, as they do today, to know how their tax dollars are spent and what their government is doing. Our freedom depends on it.

In 1802 Thomas Jefferson penned, “We might hope to see the finances of the Union as clear and intelligible as a merchant’s books, so that every member of Congress and every man of any mind in the Union should be able to comprehend them, to investigate abuses, and consequently to control them.”*

I am keenly aware that every dollar spent by any state entity is the citizen’s money. It is your money. Too often, governments tend to lose sight of that fact. This resolves in lost confidence with our institutions and higher burdens applied to you, the taxpayers.

 

This is one reason why I launched Transparent Idaho, the state’s financial transparency website that was nominated for the prestigious Max Dalton Open Government Award from the Idaho Newspaper Foundation. For years Idaho has opened its books to citizens through a variety of reports my office publishes and the Idaho Public Records Act, but it wasn’t always easy for people to find and receive the information they needed.

And now I stand ready to launch Transparent Idaho 2.0. This renewed commitment to transparency will provide a more intuitive interface, powerful search tools, and historical data that citizens can use to view and dive deeper into the expenses of the state right from your computer. But this is just the beginning of what we will do to increase transparency across the state.

Over time, we plan to add checkbook-level spending, voluntary local government reporting, and plan to work with other agencies and taxing districts to openly provide the citizens’ data in one location for every Idahoan to access.

Public policy can be dramatically improved when there is a two-way conversation between policymakers and the public, and both can benefit by having convenient access to the information that underlies all government actions. By opening the state’s books on the internet, I hope to expand the dialog about governing, to help provide policymakers and citizens alike the tools they need for robust debate, so all can understand the implications, costs, and benefits of public policy decisions.

I believe citizens don’t just need to know about the inner-workings of their government, they have a right to know.

*Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, April 1, 1802

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