Civic News
Ethics / Municipal government

The Comptroller’s Office just made it a lot easier to track government spending

This new publicly available transparency tool allows you to more easily serch Board of Estimates-approved expenditures.

The interface of the Board of Estimates summaries tool (Screenshot by Technical.ly)

In an effort to improve transparency in government spending, the office of the City of Baltimore‘s Comptroller Bill Henry has created a searchable database of all Board of Estimates (BOE) transactions dating back to January 2021.

The database, which the Comptroller’s Office publicly launched today, was developed through Airtable. The office’s data fellow data fellow Zachary Harris did most of the heavy lifting. Now, when a reporter, resident, or city official wants to know if that spending contract for that asbestos company was approved (or, say, what spending contracts were approved after a ransomware attack shut the city down), they can do so via a one-stop database.

“I’ve wanted this since day one in office,” Comptroller Henry said in a statement. “The database will help constituents follow the spending of public money and understand how to better direct inquiries and concerns.”

The Comptroller’s Office also plans to scan all records dating to 2010, as well as create a portal to manage the BOE submissions process — a process that, as of now, takes place through memos and paper submissions.

Before this tool existed, those who wanted to learn about the approvals and BOE agendas had to download individual PDFs of each meeting and type “control +F” to find the info they sought. Needless to say, it was a tedious process. Geoff Shannon, a public relations officer within the Comptroller’s Office, said that this tool aims to make the process less burdensome.

“So much of our work is with the city’s agencies and trying to mesh 50 different historic processes together to create one agenda,” Shannon told Technical.ly. “Our goal is to create one process, one agenda that’s open and transparent.”

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Companies: Board of Estimates / City of Baltimore

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