In Triplicate: The Mile-High approach to transparency

In the state of Colorado, Governor Bill Ritter and his Economic Recovery Team are working to make sure Recovery Act dollars are spent wisely and with full transparency. However, the federal government still needs to provide a vital piece of guidance regarding how data collected by the states will be transmitted to the Office of Management and Budget and Government Accounting Office. Some states are waiting for the technical specifications to be issued by OMB.

But Colorado is trying to be proactive.

Data reporting guidance and data architecture guidance has not yet been issued by the OMB, but a draft document is expected early to mid June. “A lot of questions will be answered by those documents,” National Association of State Budget Officers executive director Scott Pattison said during a recent forum hosted by Governing.

The forthcoming document is expected to address software and hardware components, formatting information, and submission instructions, among other things. In fact, one of the big issues facing local leaders, Patterson says, is tracking and reporting on Recovery Act funds. And as a state that is trying to stay ahead, Colorado members of the Economic Recovery Team know what a monumental task the reporting requirements will be.

“We’re taking a two-track approach,” said Myung Oak Kim, Communications manager for Governor Bill Ritter’s Economic Recovery Team, in an interview. “Our team is working intensely on the tracking and reporting requirements and we’re moving forward to report our spending prior to the October 10 deadline,” Ms. Kim said. “But there are a lot of criteria that haven’t been established.”

Ms. Kim is one of five members on Colorado’s Economic Recovery Team. But there is also a volunteer oversight board, called the Colorado Economic Recovery and Accountability Board, composed of public and private sector leaders. The Board is chaired by Don Elliman, who is also the director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development.

Colorado is one of sixteen “GAO States” that are working with the Government Accounting Office to help ensure accountability and transparency with the stimulus funds. “Our perspective is that being a GAO state is helpful, we have an extra set of eyes paying attention,” Kim said. Perhaps more helpful for the state, is that Colorado is in discussions with the federal government to be an early reporting state.

As an early reporting state, Colorado would begin reporting on stimulus funds in July, which might seem to be a daunting task, but the Economic Recovery Team sees it as an opportunity. “We want to be part of the process of developing reporting system – not just handed a system,” Kim said. “Down the line it will be more beneficial.”

In April, Governor Ritter announced the Transparency Online Project, (TOP) a system designed to ensure that citizens have timely, free and meaningful access to the state’s financial information. TOP was launched through an executive order and directs the Office of Information & Technology and the Office of the State Controller to establish a web-based system that provides access to information about the state’s revenues and expenditures. The system will work in much the same way federal agencies use USASpending.gov and the forthcoming FederalReporting.gov.

Ms. Kim said that Colorado is trying to set up their accounting system as cheaply as possible and that they are trying to develop the system in-house without having to pay a vendor for the back-end. But she said the Economic Recovery Team is not sure if ultimately they will borrow, build or purchase a web-based reporting system.

In any case, building out a web-based reporting system like TOP is one reason Colorado wants to be an early reporting state.

“We feel like the requirements in Recovery Act already fit what we’re doing. We need more info, but we’re not just sitting here waiting,” Kim said.

“We’re moving forward.”

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