Within the past few years, we have witnessed a trend of increasing online financial and budget information. State, county, and local government web sites that include comprehensive annual financial reports (CAFR) and budget information are becoming more the rule than the exception.
But the web site is blazing the trails for the next generation of financial and budget information on state and municipal government web sites. Launched in January, the web site places a broad spectrum of state budget information – in clear language and with maneuverable data – into the hands of its citizens.
The introductory page of the web site says, “Now, all Floridians can access budget information that was previously unavailable in any form. With a few computer clicks, you and all 16 million citizens of this state can see in plain language what programs and services are performed by our government at what cost, their projected cost in next year’s budget, and what performance standards the agencies are expected to meet in providing those services . . .The tool of accountability, Florida’s e-Budget, now resides in your hands. Use it.”
Apparently, citizens are accepting that invitation.
As Michael Jones, Chief Analyst for the Systems Design and Development Unit of the Florida Governor’s Office, reports, “Since the release of the Governor’s e-Budget web site, concerned citizens have sent over 350 messages directly to the e-Budget web site requesting information from the Governor concerning the funds budgeted for various state projects.”
During the first month of operation, the web site received approximately 1.8 million hits, according to Jones, who tells us that the site now averages about 200,000 hits per month. “Activity on the web site increases any time a budget document is released, with counts going as high as 100,000 or more hits per day,” he says. These documents include the release of the Governor’s budget recommendations, proposed House and Senate budgets, and the final Legislative Appropriations bill. Accessibility ? Accuracy ? Accountability
Then, by clicking on a given agency – for example, Children and Families – the user can access budget allocations for specific programs and services.
It doesn’t end there. Those who want even more detail can click on a particular program, like the Refugee Assistance Program, to see how funds are budgeted for specific expenditures, as well as the program’s service outcome for last year, and objectives for the current year.
Budget information is also searchable by policy area – e.g., education or public protection – where two or more agencies might jointly sponsor programs and services.
Another of the site’s strengths is that it is extremely user-friendly, with many tools, including a User Guide and Glossary, to help online visitors – including “everyday citizens” – access and understand the information presented here. At the same time, materials are not overly simplified.
The site provides several pre-formatted reports that are available for downloading, but also gives users the opportunity to create additional policy area, agency, or appropriations bill reports.
KUDOS to the State of Florida for an online budget presentation that reflects an attention to accessibility, accuracy and accountability.