Ranking the websites — additional thoughts

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Though we found the website rankings done by Good Jobs First really interesting, it didn’t surprise us that some state officials think the effort missed the mark.

Gerry Oligmueller, the astute and thoughtful state budget administrator of Nebraska, for example, questioned whether states should be supplying much of the same information already available on the federal Recovery.gov site. “We aren’t trying to emulate or duplicate recovery.gov,” he told us. “We don’t feel that is in the interest of the U.S. or Nebraska taxpayer. If people want to track it down to the GIS dot, then recovery.gov provides that feature.”

To be clear, Nebraska’s site – recovery.nebraska.gov — does provide some state-level ARRA expenditure information, but it primarily serves as a conduit for resource and contact information—what funds are available and who to call about them. “We knew the web allowed us to eliminate a thousand phone calls a week. People were asking, ‘What is the money available for and where do I go to find out information for it,’” Oligmueller explains, “and a lot of that was driven by the fact that the federal government didn’t have all that information out there.”

We asked Greg LeRoy and Phil Mattera of Good Jobs First what they thought about this. Their response was, essentially, that state websites should be supplying even more details than appear on the federal website on how they are using the money.

LeRoy and Mattera strike an “if-not-now-when” note, saying that all levels of government are facing rising expectations for transparency and performance reporting. “The recovery act websites are fueling that expectation but it was already underway,” says LeRoy, who is the executive director of Good Jobs First. “We view this is as a two-year crash course in state disclosure,” adding that Good Jobs First is also ramping up to revisit its 2007 report “The State of State Disclosure.”

Other state officials we’ve talked to note that Good Jobs First gives credit to states that had pre-existing performance reporting websites and punishes those that didn’t. While we understand the logic there, it feels to us like however a state develops a superior site, it deserves to get credit for it.

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