(Photo courtesy of State Treasurer)
Asking for an infinite supply of anything is expensive, says Pennsylvania State Treasurer Rob McCord. That might especially be said of transitions toward governmental transparency through technology.
“When I came into office, I was pounding on the table saying ‘Why don’t we have every contract over $5,000 shared online?’ McCord, who took the treasurer’s seat in 2009 told Technically Philly during an interview in Bryn Mawr last month. “Well, it’s because that’s impossible. We don’t have the capacity, and it would cost too much to get there right away.”
Outgoing Philadelphia CTO Allan Frank, too, said “moving the mountain” of updating outdated systems while simultaneously releasing data and moving forward transparency is a bigger project than many realize. Frank’s interim successor Tommy Jones says his priority is focusing on infrastructure because of capacity concerns.
So governments need to find the low cost, actionable start, he says, not the blue-sky ideal that won’t happen.
For McCord, that was launching an online contract system for the treasurer’s office alone. The treasurer’s office has also launched the McCord Report, quarterly PDF reports with data on state government spending and allocation.
“The more you’re able to expose relevant information the more you drive down the probability of corruption.”
“Sunlight disinfects. When you allow people to do important, expensive work without any check, without public review and public disclosure, you’re inviting corruption,” McCord says. “The more you’re able to expose relevant information the more you drive down the probability of corruption.”
Of corruption charges at the Delaware River Port Authority, McCord says: “You talk to people who said they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong, and, in most cases, I believe them.” A little more exposure through tracking the money in public ways online could have kept that from happening.
“We also need the reduced price of transparency, by reducing [staffing] requirements and finding inefficiencies. We are pushing very hard operationally on increased transparency,” he said. “But you can also have data that doesn’t turn itself into information.”
Knowing the shoe size of every state legislator is data but it isn’t likely useful, McCord said.
“Of course someday everything needs to be online and searchable, so you can say ‘How much money does that company get from government?’ I think we can get there, where every dollar ever spent is shared online,” McCord says. “But let’s start with something that can truly be accomplished.”
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