Checkbook NYC goes open source


New York City Comptroller John C. Liu today published the source code for the Checkbook NYC financial transparency website, and announced several partnerships that will enable other governments to rapidly leverage New York City’s investment in order to create similar websites of their own. The announcements were made at an event held for the press during the 10th annual Personal Democracy Forum, currently underway in NYC.

Checkbook NYC was released for use and modification under the APGL 3.0 open source license to encourage programmers and governments that adopt the system to contribute improvements and additional features for release in future versions. The code is available on open source code repository GitHub. The software was developed by city officials with developers from REI Systems. REI System is known for its other work on government websites like

“We could have gone the traditional way with it, and released mega datasets on Socrata or out to the public, but the comptroller challenged us to do more,” said Ari Hoffnung, Deputy Comptroller at the New York City Comptroller’s Office.

Oracle and CGI are building adapters to help other governments feed their financial data into the system. CGI is utilizing its Advantage software program to work with Checkbook. REI will work with both companies to make sure that the adapters will work effectively with the Checkbook system and host sandbox development environments. Collectively, Oracle, CGI, and REI Systems are estimated to have committed to investing more than $1 million of resources in order to make Checkbook NYC rapidly adaptable by other governments. “We are excited that Checkbook NYC can help other governments get control of their spending,” the Comptroller said.

The software empowers the public to keep an eye on more than $70 billion in annual government spending with detailed, up-to-date information about New York City’s revenues, expenditures, contracts, payroll, and budget. In January, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group named it the best website of its kind. User dashboards for small community boards to large agencies like the Department of Education have the same level of access and are presented the same inside the tool. Some 100 agencies in the city are represented on Checkbook. The tool also provides access to more than 20 years of historical information, allowing users to conduct trend analyses in more than two dozen areas, including the city’s debt load, population, and budget.

“Initially, agencies weren’t that excited about having their information online,” the Comptroller noted. “But all of the agencies have been cooperative.”

Applications and spending are not siloed so users can see how much money has been spent against a certain contract down to the transaction level. Payroll data is also available listed by professional titles within a given agency. APIs and data feeds are open for interested users or developers. “We are very proud of what we did, but we are working to make more progress,” Hoffnung said.

A “Checkbook NYC Hackathon,” designed to bring together civic activists, software developers, and entrepreneurs, is being planned for the fall. Discussions are also under way with other governments to form a consortium that would collaboratively manage the Checkbook NYC source code and share costs associated with future enhancements.

“We believe this application can serve as an early warning system to help us avoid the reckless spending we have seen before,” said Comptroller Liu.