It is exciting to see newspapers and others — inside and outside the state of Wyoming — talking about spending transparency. The people of Wyoming pay for our government with hard-earned dollars, and the ability of any interested citizen to “follow the money” is vital to accountability, public trust and good government. Some private sector advocates say it well: “Every Dime. Online. In Real Time.”
During my tenure as your state auditor, I have worked to lay the foundation for this initiative. First, we had to make certain that we are actually tracking “every dime.” The Legislature has supported a new accounting system designed specifically for governmental accounting and fund accounting, and I am excited about its operation. For example, the segregation of federal monies from the general fund will allow citizens to track how much federal dollars are in our state supporting education, health care, family services, roads and other services. This improvement is a new level of transparency in Wyoming. Federal expenditures will be available statewide, not agency by agency in disparate systems or excel spreadsheets.
Second, we have worked to provide information for free. Right now, anyone can go to my office’s website (sao.wyo.gov) and search the state’s payments to its vendors, using the vendor resources tab. We are “online.”
If we want to have access in “real time,” however, it will take legislative investment. I asked for just this support when I announced my candidacy for re-election in Casper at the Ramkota in 2014, and I have researched the various options over the last four years. The challenge is that details for some payments must be private. Through the Medicaid program, the state of Wyoming pays for health care for those who cannot afford it. Through the Attorney General’s office, the state helps victims of crime with counseling and other services. While the accounting system that my office runs must track payments to doctors and payments for assistance to crime victims, we must obey the law and keep the personal details confidential. No rape victim should have to worry that counseling sessions will be a public record. They are not, and they will not be.
A solution is available now. There is technology that extracts information from our existing accounting systems and makes public everything that can be provided. I have spoken to both political parties separately in the Legislature pleading for this investment. I even sent all members of the Joint Appropriations Committee a link to the state of West Virginia’s new transparency site as an example of what Wyoming needs and what funding would accomplish. “Every dime. Online. In Real Time.” You bet. The entire state could have benefited from this initiative.
Sadly, due to our recent revenue shortfall, the Wyoming Legislature was unable to fund this request. I understand, but Wyoming citizens should know that I persist. As a member of the Government Efficiency Commission, I continue to fight to obtain funding through the upcoming government efficiency appropriations.
We have gotten to campaign season, and we now see the government transparency debate enter into the fray. This is wonderful. I am leaving my two terms in office knowing that there is a solid foundation for the next state auditor to build on. You can’t do everything at once, and I am proud that my vision for transparency in the state of Wyoming in 2014 is coming to fruition. It obviously won’t be before I leave office in January, but if the next auditor continues forward, we will get ‘er done. Tell the candidates what you want. Talk to your legislator about funding the tools to provide transparency. This is a priority to me as I know it is to you.