Show Us the Stimulus (Again)

An Evaluation of State Government Recovery Act Websites

A report released today shows that many states are making dramatic improvements in websites designed to disseminate information about their share of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), while others have failed to make vital information available.


Good Jobs First

Every state government has a website reporting on its role in implementing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, the $787 billion federal stimulus bill designed to shore up state finances, reinforce the social safety net and fund job‐creating infrastructure and energy‐efficiency projects. Many states have made substantial improvements since these sites were first created in Spring 2009, but there are still wide differences in the quality and quantity of the information offered.

A growing number of state ARRA sites deliver on President Obama’s promise that the stimulus plan would be carried out with “an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability.” Yet some remain half‐hearted efforts that provide taxpayers little useful data on the largest federal stimulus since the New Deal.

These are the conclusions of Good Jobs First after a new review and evaluation of the states’ ARRA websites. As in our previous report published last July, we considered how effective the sites are in conveying information about:
•    the categories of stimulus spending;
•    the distribution of that spending in different parts of the state; and
•    the details of specific projects funded by ARRA grants and contracts, including their employment impact. 

On a scale of 0 to 100, the average state score is 44, and the median is 42. Although changes in our scoring system limit the ability to make direct comparisons, it is notable that in our previous survey the average was significantly lower at 28 and the median 25.  Transparency is improving, but not as quickly as the public’s demand for greater openness. 

In this new survey, 20 states score above 50: Maryland (87), Kentucky (85), Connecticut (80), Colorado (72), Minnesota (72), Wisconsin (72), California (69), Illinois (69), Oregon (67), Massachusetts (65), Georgia (64), West Virginia (64), New Mexico (62), New York (62), Pennsylvania (62), Montana (61), Arkansas (60), New Hampshire (58), Washington (54) and Iowa (52).

At the other end, there are 11 states with scores below 20, reflecting the absence of adequate data on ARRA programs or projects. Starting from the bottom, they are: North Dakota (5), District of Columbia (6), Missouri (10), Alaska (13), Vermont (13), Louisiana (16), Mississippi (17), Idaho (18), Oklahoma (18), Texas (18) and South Carolina (19). Again keeping in mind the change in methodology, there are cases in which states experienced major changes in the rankings from our previous survey to this one. The biggest Cinderella stories are Kentucky, which soared from 47th place to 2nd (an increase of 45 places); Illinois, which jumped from 50th to 7th (43 places); Minnesota, which climbed from 34th to 4th (30 places); and Utah, which rose from 50th to 24th (26 places).

The improved standings of these four states all reflect substantial enhancements to their sites. By contrast, the greatly lowered rankings of states such as Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina do not derive from major downgrades in their web features. These states were mainly impacted by changes in our scoring system. Their relative positions were also affected by the upward movement of states that enriched their sites.