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The Big Apple Enhances Financial Transparency

The upgraded Checkbook NYC 2.0 reveals where money flows within New York City’s $70 billion budget.

In keeping with the open government movement, New York City in January launched the upgraded Checkbook NYC 2.0 -- a Web application that launched in beta in 2010, and reveals where money flows within the city’s $70 billion budget.

“If you look at government transparency initiatives throughout the country, there has been a huge movement of putting large data sets into the public domain,” said Ari Hoffnung, deputy comptroller for Public Affairs. “But we also recognize that fact that not many people have the skill set to slice, dice and analyze large data sets.”

The website’s homepage, shown below, connects users to interactive charts and graphs displaying financial data for city departments.


The city touts the importance of three Web apps on the site: spending, contracts and payroll. These three sections contain specific data on payments to vendors, contractors and overall expenses. A curious citizen who visits the “contracts” section, for example, will discover that the Department of Education currently has 3,911 active contracts amounting to $21.14 billion total.

The website’s menu bar links users to pages containing decades of New York’s financial history and trends, as well as data sets that can be downloaded in .csv or .xml formats for personal analysis. People can also access Checkbook’s application programming interface (API) to query the system’s database and receive data feeds for their own personal programs and software. 

City technology staff and contractors programmed the website in Drupal, and New York’s administration plans to make that available to the public soon.

“The source code will be available two months from now. That’s our goal,” Hoffnung said. “Right now you have access to all of the data from the data feeds and the APIs, but the actual source code that shows you the tables, the graphs, the search capabilities, the filtering — all of that’s going to be available as well.”

New York spent $2 million on the application’s development, which is less than 1 percent of the more than $300 million spent on FMS 3.0, the city’s central accounting system that supplies Checkbook’s core data.

Hoffnung said he feels that Checkbook capitalizes on the consumption habits of today’s Internet culture. 

“As long as you had the skill set to do a search on Google, use Gmail, buy a book on Amazon [or] look at your own checking account on your online banking website, you would be able to access city financial information,” he said. “We think that is part of our responsibility in financial transparency, to not only put the data to public domain, but take the next step and make that data accessible to a much larger segment of the population.”

Checkbook NYC, he said, a continuous work-in-progress, and New York will always perform upgrades and modifications to improve its usefulness. Checkbook 3.0 will provide access to revenue and subcontracting data, agency budgetary conditions and mapping of capital projects.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock