Hawai‘i scores F in government online transparency

LIHU‘E — If Gov. Neil Abercrombie was sitting in a classroom with the other 49 state governors, he would be among the bottom-three students regarding grades on online transparency of government spending, according to a report by U.S. PIRG Education Fund, a nonprofit organization that works to protect consumers and promote good government.

In Following the Money 2013, released Tuesday by PIRG, Hawai‘i received an “F” grade, along with Wyoming, Wisconsin, California and North Dakota. The

Aloha State placed 48th in the PIRG list, with 39 points out of possible 100 — ahead of California, with 37 points, and North Dakota, with 31 points.

“I think what’s really being said is (the state government) needs to work with as much transparency as they can in providing general information to the public,” Kaua‘i County Council Chair Jay Furfaro said.

In February, a different nonprofit organization, Sunshine Review, gave the Kaua‘i County Council an A-plus rating in online transparency. Furfaro said that two years ago, the council scored a C rating, and identifying problems and setting goals helped to improve the rating to A-plus, the highest among all county councils in the state.

“It’s going to take some resources and it’s going to take some focus to knock off these goals,” said Furfaro, adding the state administration needs to come up with a strategy first.

The five “failing” states maintain websites that are checkbook-level, but are limited and hard to use, according to PIRG’s report. Only one of those five states, Wyoming, provides spending information on off-budget agencies.

“Not a single failing state provides information on the public benefits of economic development subsidies broken down by recipient or makes its tax expenditure report available,” the report states.

All states, including the top ones — Texas, Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan — have “many opportunities” to improve transparency, according to the report.

The benefits of transparency websites come with a “surprisingly low price tag” — less than $300,000 to create it and even less to update it — according to PIRG, and this would include developing and maintaining the website. But several states, including Hawai‘i, created and updated their websites with funding from their existing budgets, without the need for special appropriations or earmarks.

Some states are working on improving or replacing outdated information systems, according to the report, which quotes the Hawai‘i Department of Finance and Budget as stating that it has “initiated an ambitious technology transformation program, in order to upgrade and modernize the state’s information technology infrastructure.”

In some areas, Hawai‘i scored well, receiving 27 points out of possible 30 in contracts transparency; 11 out of possible 12 in grants transparency; and one out of possible two in feedback transparency.

But the Aloha State scored zero when it came down to expenditures (20 possible points); economic development tax credits (12 possible points); tax expenditure reports (10 possible points); public benefits (eight possible points); off-budget agencies (four possible points); and city and county spending (two possible points).

Furfaro said the state would need to look for obstacles, identify who is accountable for disseminating information, facilitate outreach programs to the community and consistently test for improvements.

The state Procurement Office, Department of Accounting and General Services is responsible for Hawai‘i’s transparency website, Hawaii.gov/spo2, according to PIRG.

The state government did not respond by press time for a request for comments.

Visit uspirgendfund.org for more information or to download the report.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.


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