Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs has thrown open the doors of public finance information, and she used technology to do it.
Days after taking office in January 2007, Combs ordered the Comptroller's Office to publish expenditure information online -- going so far as to list the purchasing of pencils. That grew into a business intelligence project that put spending and payment information for all state agencies into an easy-to-use online database open to the public called "Where the Money Goes." The project won a 2008 Best of Texas award from the Center for Digital Government.
Combs is reaching farther as the economy turns south. She announced in December 2008 a three-pronged initiative called Open Book Texas, which includes these components: TxSmartBuy is an online purchasing and price comparison Web site where government employees can browse contractor e-catologs -- everything from furniture to frozen foods. The Texas Transparency Check-up is a one-stop list for itemized budgets that are available online from cities, counties and school districts. The Single Set of Books site details planning and exploration of a statewide ERP system.
"In the age of the Internet, there is seldom a good reason why government cannot keep citizens informed about how tax dollars are spent," Combs said. "This emphasis on transparency is not only about making local governments more accountable to citizens; it is equally about making local governments stronger and better. As our own experience shows, if you know what you are spending, you know how to spend better. We support that philosophy at every level of government."
Matt Williams was previously the news editor of Govtech.com, and is now a contributor to Government Technology and Public CIO magazines. He also previously served as the managing editor of TechWire, a sister publication to Government Technology.2