State program shines light on government spending

As treasurer of Ohio, I believe taxpayers have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. All too often, we the people aren’t able to follow our money once we write a check to city hall, the state capital or Washington D.C. The concept is simple. When government is big, the people are small. And when government is small, the people are big.

So in December 2014, I launched OhioCheckbook.com, which for the first time in Ohio history puts every single state expenditure online. Now, more than $500 billion of state spending over the past eight fiscal years is at the fingertips of anyone with an internet connection — from $2 for a pack of pencils to $2 million for road improvements and everything in between.

When we created OhioCheckbook.com, we understood that this information would only be useful if it was easy to navigate and use. You shouldn’t need to have a CPA to understand how your money is being spent.

OhioCheckbook.com is an easy-to-use, cutting-edge website that breaks the mold of a hard-to-navigate government data dump site. Simply type in what interests you in the powerful “Google-style” search engine and you can instantly drill down and compare with fully interactive charts, graphics and compare tools. If you find something that interests you, we included a social media share function. One click and your Facebook friends will instantly see what you see.

By shining sunlight on spending decisions made deep in the bowels of the state bureaucracy, citizens are able to follow their money and play an active role in helping to root out waste, fraud and abuse.

OhioCheckbook.com has received overwhelming support from taxpayers, newspapers and good government groups across the state and country. It also recently earned Ohio the No. 1 transparency ranking in the nation by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group for the second consecutive year.

We’ve come a long way in making Ohio government more open and transparent, but we didn’t stop there.

Last year, I sent a letter to local government and school officials representing 3,962 local governments throughout the state inviting them to place their checkbook-level data on OhioCheckbook.com. I offered this invitation at no cost to our local governments. They just send my office their spending information and we’ll take care of the rest.

Since that invitation, over 750 local governments and schools across Ohio have joined our mission for greater transparency by partnering with my office to post their spending information online.

Combined, these local government and school district sites include more than 18 million individual checks that equate to more than $43 billion worth of total spending. And just like OhioCheckbook.com, the local transparency sites are user-friendly with predictive keyword searching, dynamic charts and individual check details.

By posting state and local government spending online, we are empowering taxpayers across Ohio to hold public officials accountable like never before. My hope is that what we are doing will set off a national race for greater transparency.

 

Josh Mandel is the 48th treasurer of the state of Ohio. He was elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Josh is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served two tours in Iraq and previously served two terms in the Ohio House of Representatives.