For Immediate Release - December 05, 2011

Patrick-Murray Administration, Treasurer Grossman, and Comptroller Benison Announce Massachusetts Open Checkbook Launch

Transparency Website Marks Major Milestone in State Government Accountability

In a display of unprecedented commitment to government transparency, State Treasurer Steven Grossman, Administration & Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez, and Comptroller Martin J. Benison announced today the unveiling of the Massachusetts Open Checkbook. The user friendly website, which can be found at www.mass.gov/opencheckbook, represents a collaborative effort across state government to post the Commonwealth’s expenses online.

"We are committed to making government accessible and accountable to the people it serves, and Open Checkbook is part of that commitment," said Governor Deval Patrick. "This website provides an easy way to keep track of the different ways the government invests the public's money."

As part of the state’s Fiscal Year 2011 Budget, the legislature passed and the governor signed into law new transparency guidelines, which include the development of an online searchable database for state spending. The Open Checkbook is based on the approach and technology piloted in the Massachusetts Recovery and Reinvestment Office website. Treasurer Grossman also pledged throughout his campaign that he would work with his counterparts in state government to make sure that the people of the Commonwealth had access to an online searchable database of the Commonwealth’s finances.

“Every citizen has the right to know where and how their hard earned tax-payer dollars are being spent,” said Treasurer Steven Grossman. “I am proud of the work that we have all done to make this website a reality and to honor my commitment to the electorate. We are optimistic that the Open Checkbook will allow individuals to become more fully engaged regarding how their government operates.”

“The Patrick-Murray Administration is committed rebuilding the public’s trust in government by making government more transparent and accessible to taxpayers,” said Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez. “Open Checkbook makes an unprecedented amount of information available to the public in a way that they can both understand and use to hold government accountable.”

“Part of the Comptroller's mission is to provide information to the public," said Comptroller Martin J. Bension. "I hope the public finds that this furthers a deeper understanding of how the Commonwealth serves its citizens and the difficult choices faced in allocating scarce Commonwealth resources to deliver services to its residents."

The Open Checkbook provides payment details for over 50,800 vendors, identifying who was paid, how much was paid, which state entity made the payment and the purpose of the payment. In addition to showcasing a breakdown of state vendor payments, which can be searched by vendor name, department, or spending category, the website also provides state government payroll and pension information. While the vendor details are updated every night, the payroll and pension figures are updated every two weeks and every month, respectively.

“Open Checkbook is an important next step in providing the public with an unveiled eye into state government and how it works,” Senate President Therese Murray said. “It continues to be our priority to support and engage in a two-way conversation with our constituents and residents across the Commonwealth and this new website fully supports our efforts for increased transparency in the Senate and throughout the Legislature.”

“Open Checkbook brings a new level of transparency to government operations,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “This website will provide the public with easy access to information about government spending.”

The Open Checkbook provides a record amount of online information regarding the state’s finances, representing over 5 million records of actual data. However, the information included in the open checkbook primarily focuses on the money that goes through the state’s online accounting system, also known as MMARS. Information that does not go through MMARS, summary payments, and protected data (such as the names of clients) are not included in this phase of the Open Checkbook. While protected data will always remain confidential, it is expected that summary payments and payments from quasi-public agencies and municipalities, will be made available in future phases of the site.

The following lists provide an idea of what is and what is not included in this phase.

WHAT IS INCLUDED

  • All state agencies that are funded via the state budget
  • Judiciary – courts and departments
  • Legislature
  • Constitutional Officers (Governor, Treasurer, Auditor, Attorney General, Secretary of State)
  • Independent agencies, boards and commissions – Library Commissioners, Comptroller, Campaign Finance, Ethics, Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, Inspector General, etc.
  • District Attorneys (with the exception of FY10 and FY11)
  • Sheriffs
  • Agencies within Executive Branch secretariats (Executive Office of Administration and Finance, Executive Office of Education, etc.)
  • Most Agencies within Massachusetts Department of Transportation (Registry, Highways, Aeronautics, Merit Rating Board)

WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED

  • Summary information or protected data - Child Support, Lottery winnings, Debt Service, Retiree healthcare, client names, etc.
  • Agencies which do not receive direct appropriations within the state budget:
    • Quasi-public agencies – MassDevelopment, MassHousing, Convention Center Authority, Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, Regional Transit Authorities, education collaboratives, regional planning commissions.
    • Local Governments – Cities and Towns
    • Portions of Massachusetts Department of Transportation that have not previously spent through MMARS (Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, Massport)
    • Spending from tuition and fees collected and retained by the University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges

Several local advocacy groups and research organizations played an active role in helping to improve the usability of the Open Checkbook. Staff members from MASSPIRG, Common Cause, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, the Pioneer Institute, and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation all provided feedback during the design of the website, much of which was incorporated into the final product.

“The ability to see how government uses the public purse is fundamental to democracy,” said Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director for MASSPIRG. “In an age when people use information primarily online and expect to have it at their fingertips, this website gives Baystaters a reason to feel more confident about their government.”

“We are glad that Massachusetts is joining other states around the nation to make state spending information more available to the public,” said Pioneer Institute Executive Director James Stergios. “There is still some ground to be made up, but this is a solid first step toward public transparency.”

"Open Checkbook will give Massachusetts citizens a powerful new lens with which to view their government in action,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “Check-book level detail of government expenditures is critical to citizens' ability to hold government accountable. We applaud this effort to strengthen transparency and to bring Massachusetts more fully into the digital age.”

“In a democracy the budget is how people, through our representative, make decisions about things that we all need and pay for together: quality schools, roads and bridges, public safety, a safety net, parks, playgrounds, libraries, courts, and the environmental agencies that protect our air and water. This new tool will empower active citizens to help make sure that our tax dollars achieving our goals and that our government is operating efficiently and effectively,” said Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center President  Noah Berger.

 

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