Raising the bar on transparency
By Michael Barnhart
Published: Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Last week, Sunshine Review, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to state and local government transparency, released its 2013 Transparency Report Card.
The Transparency Report Card grades every state, as well as the largest counties, cities and school districts within each state, on the availability of information on government websites. Sunshine Review developed a checklist of information governments should provide to citizens. Using that checklist, researchers evaluated the content found on the government websites and calculated the governments' grades on an “A” to “F” scale.
The five largest cities in Pennsylvania averaged a “B+” and the state website scored an “A-.” That performance placed the Keystone State among the highest scoring states in the country.
Despite the high grades, Pennsylvania government websites did not score straight “A”s. While Pennsylvania should be recognized for the quality of the official .gov site in comparison to other states' sites, Pennsylvania must continue to improve transparency.
Sunshine Review applauds Trib state Capitol reporter Brad Bumsted's recognition of the need for improvement in Pennsylvania government websites in his Feb. 3 column, “Pennsylvania's opaque state of transparency.” Mr. Bumsted correctly highlights that Pennsylvania and other states sometimes sponsor department-specific sites, and those sites often fail to include necessary information and are difficult to navigate.
While we generally agree with Bumsted on his points about transparency and appreciate his passion for open government, his critique of Sunshine Review is off base.
As clearly stated in the 2013 Transparency Report Card, Sunshine Review analyzed the official .gov state website, as well as the websites of the five largest counties and cities, and the 10 largest school districts. We based those evaluations on our 10-point transparency checklist.
That checklist includes easy-to-access information on budgets, meetings, lobbying, financial audits, contracts, academic performance, public records and taxes. It does not include an audit of sub-state/department websites or review of Right to Know or sunshine laws.
Bumsted and other transparency advocates will be pleased to know that Sunshine Review is “raising the bar” for the evaluations of state websites in the coming year. Sunshine Review will implement a much tougher standard, based on the recognition that new technology should make transparency easier and cheaper for state and local governments.
Sunshine Review will ask government websites to publish:
• proposed budgets a week before they are voted on;
• the proposed and the enacted budgets;
• total compensation of elected and administrative officials; and
• total compensation by department.
We wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Bumsted about the importance of government transparency. We at Sunshine Review believe that transparency is not a political talking point but a necessary part of good governance that keeps government accountable to the people.
We look forward to the coming year and re-examining every state website under a more scrupulous eye.
Michael Barnhart is president of Sunshine Review.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Starkey: NHL stuck in stone age
- Steelers defense’s rapid decline looks similar to that of Steel Curtain’s
- Newsmaker: José M.F. Moura
- Downtown Connellsville had it all in the 1940s and 1950s
- Leader Times roundup: Apollo-Ridge boys remain unbeaten
- Pittsburgh Tribune-Review athletes of the week: Hampton’s Ryan Luther, Vincentian’s Brenna Wise
- PSU students accused of intimidation
- Greensburg inks new deal with police chief
- Jeannette alerted to police costs
- PNC plans to do away with tellers
- Guido: Timing of new high school tricky for WPIAL