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Ensure Accountability with Public Funds

Here’s a question you haven’t heard in awhile:

“Why are my tax dollars being spent this way?”

By haven’t heard in awhile I meant in the last 10 minutes, because public-to-city questions like this arrive at the doorsteps of government officials all the time. So how can agencies address this question? And if we’re really getting to the root here, who can be held accountable?

In last week’s online training, “Transforming Government Operations with Open Data,” Kyle Hall, Government Finance SME, and Former Special Assistant to Los Angeles City Controller, Ron Galperin, shared best practices for achieving operational benefits through open data – with a performance and financial audit perspective.

Here are the internal controls addressed by Hall, the problems they tackle, and their benefits in addition to making information publically available:

Creation of proactive audit programs

Declared by Hall as the most exciting and tangible way open data can improve operational frequency, creating proactive audit programs makes live data available to those responsible for managing public funds. Traditional audit programs are classified as “inherently backwards looking,” – identifying missed opportunities after they have been already going on. But by adding open data into the mix, there are some additional benefits to having data readily available in the hands of auditors. They are able to:

  • Look into how over-time is being used
  • Ensure contractors aren’t abusing their authority or overcharging the city
  • Eliminate making phone calls; have data on hand

Living reports and public records

Hall said that the most obvious example of improving operations with open data is enhancing the FOIA process – or the public records request . The two most requested information types are payroll data and transactional data. Here are the benefits for cities in reducing these requests and having data easily discoverable, and more valuable:

  • Opportunity to systemize privacy controls – creating a formal process of discovery
  • Putting the right data out – never exposing private or hidden data
  • Unlock PDFs – giving people who don’ t have accounting backgrounds or know how to read a financial report access to the data the city is already producing
  • Dynamic documents – can revisit information, continuing the value of data in the future instead of it becoming outdate the moment it’s released

For more on changes in staff behavior, be sure to view the on-demand version of this training here to get a full glimpse into the internal reactions and benefits to opening data portals.

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David Cavagna

Insuring accountability with public funds is a very serious issue that must be addressed, to many times we hear rumors of funds being diverted by sly County officials away from important programs for disabled people, minority’s etc…and if one takes the time to investigate the City or County department that received the large grant from State and Federal programs one can easily see that most of the funds never make it to the intended source. This much needed area is not my #1 choice of interest at this time but I do have interest and concerns.

Sincerely, David Cavagna

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