In an effort to goad Ohio officials into making more state records available online, the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a private policy think tank, created the Center for Transparent and Accountable Government earlier this week. The center, led by former Ohio Statehouse reporter Mike Maurer, will collect and post online state and local government budgets, employee contracts, public records policies, and other information.
Claiming that Ohio lags behind other states and the federal government in the quest to make government data available online, the new center called on candidates for state office to sign a Pledge for Transparency and Accountability. By signing, candidates pledge to demand full disclosure of government activities.
The Transparency Center also launched the OhioSunshine.org wiki, on the model of the Sunshine Review wiki created by the nonprofit Sam Adams Alliance. The wiki provides a resource for Ohio citizens seeking information from their state government without itself providing direct access to that information.
Private actors like OhioSunshine.org cannot reach into government records and retrieve data. State and federal governments must make the records available, and the cost of making them available is significant. For example, on the federal level the Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2006 that it would cost $10M to create a single comprehensive database of federal spending available on the web. An additional $2M would be required annually to update and maintain the database.
The federal government made this investment and developed USAspending.gov, under the mandate of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006. The Act created a publicly-accessible website that contains a searchable database of all non-exempt federal contract awards and grants of federal assistance beginning with fiscal year 2007.
If Ohio's new Center for Transparent and Accountable Government has its way, future state leaders who have pledged transparency will someday create an Ohiospending.gov to provide equivalent visibility for Ohio state spending.
(Jim Ernstmeyer is a second-year law student at the Boston University School of Law and a Legal Intern at Harvard Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic.)