Transparency on the Web: a Democrat(ic) Virtue?

The study Show Us the Stimulus (July 2009, Good Jobs First) is one of the most comprehensive and systematic assessments of US state “recovery” websites. The authors of the report analyze the effectiveness and transparency of state websites in providing information on the different categories of stimulus spending, the allocation of funds across different areas of the state, and individual projects carried out by private contractors and their respective impact on employment levels.

The study shows that, while some websites achieve satisfactory levels of transparency, others are largely failing to provide online transparency with regard to the use of crisis response funds. Such variance among the websites per se is not particularly surprising. But why do some states perform better than others? Are there any factors that can help to explain these differences?

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Hi Tiago – Great analysis! Thanks for sharing here on GovLoop. I know you wrote from the perspective of a researcher and stuck to the objective results, but I was wondering if you’d be willing to offer a little more commentary on this:

“If most of the factors I have looked at have proven to be uncorrelated to the transparency of recovery websites, partisanship has shown itself to be correlated to transparency. More precisely, it is possible to identify a positive and significant correlation between the transparency of recovery websites and the percentage of seats held by Democrats in the lower house of state legislatures. In other words, the more seats held by Democrats in a state legislature, the more likely the state recovery website is to be transparent.”

That’s fascinating…is the Recovery Act seen as part of the Democratic agenda, thus supported (or not!) by people who are evaluating the political implications of its success or failure? I know you don’t have an answer from the data…but I think we can tease out more questions that can drive your ongoing research.

Tiago Peixoto

Dear Andrew,

I believe your hypothesis is one of the possible ones: considering the Recovery act as part of the Democratic agenda, Democrats will be looking for means to not only give more visibility to the recovery act, but also to be seen as the promoters of the transparency of the initiative.

Nonetheless, there might be reasons that transcend the recovery efforts and the place they have on the current political agenda. For instance, some studies suggest that Democratic politicians have strategic incentives to make electors trust them with more resources, which makes them more inclined to promote transparency efforts.

Here’s a very interesting paper on the subject.

I would greatly appreciate further thoughts from you on this subject.