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Public Websites Earn Perfect Scores for Transparency

Financial data and lobbying disclosures add legitimacy to government openness efforts.

Since it first began evaluating the websites of government organizations in 2010, the Sunshine Review has seen an evolution in the kinds of data public agencies publish online. Kristin McMurray, managing editor for the nonprofit group devoted to encouraging transparent government operations, says budget information is becoming easier to find.

“We’ve seen a definite increase in disclosing financial data,” McMurray said in a recent interview with Government Technology. “It’s definitely a growing trend to be transparent.” In addition, governments are more commonly providing information on lobbying activities and contract awards.

A recent report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, covered by Government Technology, confirms the movement toward increased government openness online.

In 2010, only 41 public organizations of the more than 5,000 evaluated, qualified for an A grade from Sunshine Review, meaning they met at least nine of the 10 requirements on their transparency checklist. In 2012, 214 government organizations received the honor.

Nearly 100 groups received a perfect 10 out of 10 evaluation in 2012, including cities, counties and school districts across the country. Two state websites, Massachusetts and Washington, were also awarded the highest distinction offered in the evaluation. Florida, Illinois, Virginia and New Mexico had the largest number of agencies taking home top honors.

While guidelines for state websites and school districts vary, the Sunshine Review expects that public websites should have some common elements readily available, including current and historic budget information, public meeting announcements, past meeting minutes, readily accessible public records request instructions and contact information for elected and appointed officials, including email addresses and voting records. View more specific transparency ranking information here.

Sunshine Review has noted so much improvement in recent years, in fact, that it’s considering stricter transparency guidelines for its next round of government website evaluations. “The technology has advanced so much, and there are so many people who are going above and beyond our checklist, that we feel that it’s time to revise it,” McMurray concluded.