WISPIRG Applauds Milwaukee County for Creating Website to Allow the Public to View Detailed Information About Government Spending

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Madison, WI- On Monday, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker announced the launch of the Milwaukee County Accountability Portal (MCAP), which allows the public to view detailed data on spending by Milwaukee County government.

The new site allows visitors to search and view payments by county division for each fiscal year, beginning with fiscal year 2009. The site allows visitors to search and view payment totals by category of goods, services, or program disbursements. The site also allows visitors to conduct searches for vendors and other recipients of county funds by name.

By launching the MCAP, Milwaukee County joined the ranks of dozens of state and local governments using internet search technology to allow residents to access data about government expenditures. In just the past two years, legislation and executive orders in 29 states have given
residents access to a searchable online database of government expenditures.  At the local level, counties, cities, and school districts across the country have implemented tools to allow the public to track their expenditures online. The Obama Administration has also committed to transparency of government expenditures, as evidenced by the detailed data on American Recovery and Reinvestment Act spending available to the public on Recovery.gov.

In recent years, Wisconsin has taken steps toward improving its online transparency of government expenditures. In 2005, the Contract Sunshine Act created a website, maintained by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which allows the public to access data about every state contract, purchase, and solicitation of bids or proposals that involves an annual expenditure of $10,000 or more. In 2007, legislation was signed into law that required the Department of Commerce to provide detailed information about each agency’s economic development subsidies programs, including awards made, on its website.

However, these were only the first steps to bringing Wisconsin’s online transparency up to speed. Wisconsin should join the 29 states that currently mandate that the public be able to access a searchable online database of government expenditures. The creation of an online database of government expenditures would give Wisconsin citizens the tools to influence the budget decisions being made in Madison.

Milwaukee County has done its residents a service by providing them with detailed information about county spending. Our state government should follow their lead, and bring Wisconsin’s online transparency up to speed by creating a searchable online database of government expenditures.

“Transparency is necessary to keep a watchful eye on the public purse,” noted Johanna Lathrop, Advocate for the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG). She added, “You can’t hold elected officials accountable without this kind of information.”