Massachusetts Open Checkbook: Running Through the Ledger of Choices and Challenges in Open Government

Andy Oram | O'Reilly Radar | January 20, 2012

As a finance project, Open Checkbook hones in on one area of open government: how it spends. With Open Checkbook you can find out where the money goes in the Massachusetts state government, right down to particular salaries or particular payments to vendors. This is highly welcome in a tight economy, especially in a state that is still often unfairly tarred as "Taxachusetts," decades after tax rates were lowered--a state where news of patronage and pension scandals is common enough to get tiresome--a state where cynical voters have put referendum questions on the ballot in favor of lower taxes at least three times.

I discussed Open Checkbook with Jeffrey Simon, who works for the Governor as the director of the state's economic stimulus program and who was involved in the Open Checkbook from the beginning. The site is run by a steering committee formed by the Governor and Treasurer and made up of members of their staffs. The approach being used in Open Checkbook is based on the experience they had developing the state's stimulus program, and the website that Director Simon's office created for that program. The steering committee has been eager to add context to data, helping visitors who are uninitiated in the arcanery of state budgeting get a sense of what expenditures are for...