June 12, 2019The Journal Record |
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Wednesday the launch of the state government’s new “Oklahoma Checkbook,” an updated web database designed to provide the public with real-time data on the state’s expenses and budgets.
The service, available at checkbook.ok.gov, will eventually be a comprehensive financial and budgetary database that will transmit data down to the receipt level, but the first phase of Oklahoma Checkbook is limited to providing information primarily on the financial expenditures of state agencies and not entire budgets. Additional information will come with future phases, but Stitt said it was important that the project launched, even in this limited form.
“It’s not 100 percent complete; state agencies are on different platforms and using different systems, so we’re still working through getting all the data on there,” Stitt said. “But we wanted to get this launched and start letting Oklahomans see the data in real time while holding everyone accountable in our mission to be a top 10 state.”
With the system designed to provide the kind of transparency and accountability that will eventually provide Oklahomans with real-time hourly updates on the state’s financial transactions, Secretary of Digital Transformation and Administration David Ostrowe said he was surprised by some of the information he came across.
“As a citizen and taxpayer of Oklahoma, I was shocked on the travel,” Ostrowe said. “Considering we have an executive order on nonessential travel, and I know what our travel is like, apparently other people in this state didn’t get the memo.”
Currently, the new Checkbook system covers a wide range of agency databases ranging from state travel expenditures, vendor transactions, purchase card transactions, the state’s medical marijuana revenue and other relevant financial documents.
Unlike the previous system, which Ostrowe admitted was outdated, the new Checkbook will provide users an as-yet-unseen level of interaction and summarization. With no need to create an account, users can access the data and break information down among each state agency, their vendors and more through a series of toggles that allows for a highly customized data search.
“When your checkbook is online and it’s visible for everyone to see, it provides accountability,” Stitt said. “Oklahoma Checkbook creates a level of accountability and transparency within Oklahoma’s government that is unprecedented. I look forward to seeing how this user-friendly tool helps keep us on track to becoming a top-10 state in budget transparency.”
Current data uploaded to the site is limited to information included within the state’s PeopleSoft system, but eventually data from auxiliary databases will be included as well. Once complete, Ostrowe said the project will become fully automated and will even come to replace the current data.ok.gov website for government information.
The project is the first major undertaking by Ostrowe as the state’s first-ever secretary of digital transformation and administration. Appointed in the middle of the 2018-2019 fiscal year, Ostrowe found himself without a budget at the start of the project, instead using financial support from the Department of Treasury.
In a span of 60 days, Ostrowe worked with software company OpenGov and the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to create a platform that was built on the models OpenGov had helped establish in states like Ohio and West Virginia.
While the target launch date of Oklahoma Checkbook was May 31, Ostrowe admitted that they had to push the project off due to the inclusion of bad data and some incorrect inputs by state agencies.
“As much as I wanted to hit my deadline that I imposed on myself and committed to the governor, there was no way we were going to put out bad data,” Ostrowe said. “This data has been massaged and it balances. My commitment is that if there’s a mistake, it will be fixed within 24 hours. It won’t be two years like the previous site.”
Transparency in government, but particularly the state budget, has been a major part of the Stitt administration’s battle plan to reach his goal of making Oklahoma a top-10 state. Currently, Oklahoma sits with a D+ rating and ranked 41 out of 50 in budget transparency in a 2018 study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
While U.S. PIRG had found Oklahoma to be one of the more transparent states when it came to providing financial documentation to the public, that transparency plummeted when the nonprofit decided to include navigation of internet resources to the list of qualifications.
“While Oklahoma maintains one of the most up-to-date spending databases at the moment, it fails to make that information readily available to the average 21st-century user,” said R.J. Cross of Frontier Group, who co-authored the study. “The website was old, the search function was clunky and the site was designed to run on Internet Explorer.”
With Oklahoma following the example of both West Virginia and Ohio, which both ranked poorly in transparency before adopting a new online checkbook with OpenGov, Ostrowe said he fully expects this to transform the state’s financial transparency.
“This will put us in the top 10 in transparency overnight,” Ostrowe said. “And we’re going to use this to continue to expand transparency to other areas of government.”