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Iowa Watchdog

Iowa ranks high in transparency and irony

4/10/2014

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa is one of the top states when it comes to providing citizens easy access to information about government spending.

Just five states — Indiana, Oregon, Florida, Texas and Massachusetts — were ranked higher than Iowa by U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which gave Iowa a rating of “A-” in its 2014 report on online access to state government spending data.

A year ago, U.S. PIRG ranked Iowa 12 in the country and gave the state a “B” in government spending transparency. This year’s higher ranking reflects the increase in the amount of information the state is providing online about tax subsidies Iowa provides to businesses.

U.S. PIRG’s annual report examines state websites that provide information on state government spending, rating them for “searchability and breadth of information provided.”

Kathleen Richardson, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said she hadn’t had a chance to read the report yet, but said she wasn’t surprised by Iowa’s high ranking.

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“Government transparency is at the top of people’s minds in Iowa,” she told Iowa Watchdog.

WE’RE NUMBER SIX: Iowa ranks sixth in the nation when it comes to transparency in government spending, according to U.S. PIRG. Ironically, this high rating was announced as a scandal involving secret payments to former state employees is still unfolding.

WE’RE NUMBER SIX: Iowa ranks sixth in the nation when it comes to transparency in government spending, according to U.S. PIRG. Ironically, this high rating was announced as a scandal involving secret payments to former state employees is still unfolding.

“It’s not just at the state level, either,” Richardson said. “Government agencies at all levels are recognizing the importance of making information available online.”

But it’s not just high-minded reasons that are encouraging government agencies to post more information online, Richardson said.

“It makes their lives easier. Instead of having to answer questions on the phone or deal with people in their offices, it’s just easier for agencies to make information available online.”

Although it’s worth recognizing Iowa’s efforts at government transparency, the timing of the report “is ironic,” Richardson noted.

For the past month, secret payments made to former state employees have been dominating headlines in the state.

The payments totaling $516,000 were made to 24 employees in exchange for their signing of nondisclosure agreements as part of their settlements with the state after their jobs were eliminated.

It’s been alleged that at least some of those employees were forced out due to their ties to the previous administration.

Despite the amount of government spending information Iowa publishes online, these payments only came to light when several disgruntled former state employees who had received the payments contacted the Des Moines Register.

“Transparency is very important,” Richardson said. “But it isn’t always enough by itself.”

Contact Paul Brennan at pbrennan@watchdog.org. This story originally appeared on Watchdog.org.

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