Evaluation of Nebraska state website

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Nebraska.gov is the website for the state of Nebraska.

Website evaluation

Grade2.pngC-
Budget P
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Usability P
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Elected Officials
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Administrative Officials
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Ethics P
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Audits
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Contracts
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Lobbying P
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Public records P
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Taxes
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State agency websitesGuide.png
Transparency grading process


This website was most recently reviewed Jan. 13, 2013.

The good

  • Elected Officials
    • Elected officials are provided with contact information.[1]
    • Legislators are listed with contact information.[2]
  • Administration
    • Administrative officials are listed with contact information.[3]
    • An employee phone directory is posted.[4]
  • Audits
    • Annual audits are posted.[5]
    • Audits are archived to 2002.[6]
  • Budget
    • Proposed biennial budget documents are posted.[7]
    • Current biennial state budget information is posted.[8]
    • Executive budget recommendations are posted.[9]
    • Some budget documents archived to 1999.[10]
  • Taxes
    • State tax information, including income taxes, use taxes, occupation taxes and other revenue streams is available.[11]
  • Contracts
    • Current vendor contracts are posted.[12]
    • Bid opportunities are posted.[13]
    • Bid tabulation database is available.[14]
    • 2012 public employee contract is posted.[15]
  • Public Records
  • Lobbying
    • Registered lobbyists are listed.[17]
    • Lobbyist reports are posted.[18]
  • Ethics
    • Conflicts of interest provisions of the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Act are posted.[19]

The bad

  • Budget
    • Certified budget is not posted.
    • Certified budgets are not archived at least three years.
  • Usability
    • The site can be unwieldy due to the large number of departments at the state level.
    • The site's search function can also return information for county and municipal governments.
  • Public Records Requests
  • Lobbying
  • Ethics
    • Ethics commission and guidelines are not posted.
    • Process for reporting ethics violations is not posted.

U.S. PIRG rating

The U.S. PIRG rated the state website a "B" on providing online access to government spending data, with a score of 83 out of 100.[20]

The scorecard that U.S. PIRG uses has 13 items and focuses on a separate state website that is searchable at the checkbook level. Sunshine Review, on the other hand, focuses on the availability of separate spending-related items; they do not need to be in a central database.

Item Possible points Notes
Checkbook-level website 30 Detailed expenditure information, including individual payments made to vendors.
Search by vendor 8 Ability to search checkbook-level expenditures by contractor or vendor name.
Search by keyword of activity 8 Ability to search checkbook-level expenditures by type of service or item purchased, category, or government fund.
Search by agency or departments 8 Ability to search checkbook-level expenditures by branch of government.
Contract or summary information 10 A copy of the contract or detailed summary information is included for the expenditures.
Historical expenditures 5 Checkbook-level expenditure data from previous fiscal years.
Grants and economic development incentives information 10 Awardee-specific grants and/or economic development incentives are included in the checkbook tool or elsewhere with specific award amounts.
Downloadable 3 Information can be downloaded for data analysis.
Tax expenditure reports 10 The state's tax expenditure report is linked on the website.
Off-budget agencies 2 Expenditures from quasi-public agencies are included on the website.
City and county budgets 2 Financial information for some local governments is accessible.
ARRA Funding 2 A link is provided to the state's website that tracks funding related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Feedback 2 Website users are capable and encouraged to give feedback about the site.

There are several similarities between the checklists. For both checklists, the searchability of information factors in to how usability is rated. Both checklists have an item relating to contracts, tax information, and the budget. The U.S. PIRG requires information for quasi public entities; Sunshine Review requires information on lobbying, which includes quasi public entities' lobbying activity.

Unlike the Sunshine Review checklist with each check worth one point, different items on the U.S. PIRG checklist merit more or fewer points, depending on the item.

State Integrity Investigation

The 2012 State Integrity Investigation graded state ethics laws according to an "Integrity Index." The index was created by researching 330 "Integrity Indicators" across 14 categories of state government. The report assigned grades based on what laws are on the books, and whether or not they were effectively enforced. The report was a project of The Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International.[21]

Nebraska received an overall grade of B-, or 80%. It ranked 5 out of the 50 states.[22]

Category Grade
Public Access to Information C+
Political Financing D-
Executive Accountability C-
Legislative Accountability D+
Judicial Accountability C-
State Budget Processes A
State Civil Service Management B-
Procurement A
Internal Auditing A
Lobbying Disclosure B+
State Pension Fund Management C-
Ethics Enforcement Agencies C
State Insurance Commissions C-
Redistricting A

Transparency Legislation

2011

  • Senator Bill Avery has written a bill that would require independent groups to disclose campaign spending if it mentioned a candidate by name or distributed materials 30 days before an election.[23]

Resources

Resource Run by Includes Year URL
Recovery State Tracks federal stimulus funds 2011 http://www.recovery.nebraska.gov/
Accountability and Disclosure Commission State Lobbying and campaign finance 2011 http://nadc.nol.org/cf/elections.html
Nebraska Spending State Discloses how the State of Nebraska spends and receives funds 2011 http://www.nebraskaspending.gov/
Auditor of Public Accounts State Budget Info 2011 http://www.auditors.state.ne.us/index_html?page=content/budget_info/budget_info.html
Transparency Nebraska Platte Institute for Economic Research State employee salaries, education, local government, and links to state resources. 2009-2011 http://www.transparencynebraska.org/
Follow the Money National Institute on Money in Politics Campaign contributions 2010 http://www.followthemoney.org/database/state_overview.phtml?y=2010&s=NE

Salaries

State and Local Employees

According to 2008 Census data, the state of Nebraska and local governments in the state employed a total of 143,208 people.[24] Of those employees, 102,439 were full-time employees receiving a net pay of $376,569,618 per month and 40,769 were part-time employees paid $35,446,767 per month.[24] More than 55% of those employees, or 79,724 employees, were in education or higher education.[24]

The largest state employees union and the state agreed to a new contract that include a pay freeze for 2011 and 2 percent pay raises in 2012-13.[25]

State Employee Benefits

Insurance

Health Insurance Gov. Heineman said that state employees contribute 21 percent toward their health insurance premiums.[26]

The State of Nebraska offers several types of health insurance plans, including a high deductible PPO and regular PPO[27], for employees working 20 hours or more per week with premiums for part-time employees are pro-rated. The state pays approximately 79% of the total premium of whichever plan type you choose. Health insurance premiums are tax sheltered under the IRS Section 125.[28]

Monthly Healthcare costs:[27]

Plan Employee Cost State Cost Total Premium
Wellness PPO Plan $93.84 $352.98 $446.82
BlueChoice Plan $121.64 $457.56 $579.20
Regular PPO Plan $98.78 $371.56 $470.34
High Deductible PPO Plan $84.70 $318.60 $403.30

Optional vision and dental insurance is available to employees. Vision insurance costs an individual employee $7.10 or $11.00 per month, depending on which plan the employee chooses.[27] Dental insurance costs an employee $21.82 per month for individual coverage.[27]

Life Insurance The state provides a $20,000 basic term life insurance policy to all eligible employees regardless of age. The State of Nebraska pays fully for the policy for full-time employees. In addition to the basic term life insurance provided by the state, employees have a number of options for purchasing additional life insurance for him or her self and dependents.[28]

Holidays Permanent employees receive 12 paid holidays per year.[28] Employees working part time should receive part time off on holidays on a pro-rated basis.[28] The following are state holidays[29]:

  • New Year's Day
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • President’s day
  • Arbor day
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Veteran’s Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • The Day after Thanksgiving
  • Christmas Day

Bereavement leave may be granted for up to five days upon request for a death in the immediate family. "Immediate family" means spouse, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, sister, brother, child, grandchild, spouse of any of these, or someone who bears a similar relationship to the spouse of the employee.[28]

Civil leave is available for jury duty, election board duty or voting time.[28]

Military leave is granted in accordance with applicable federal and state laws.[28]

Other benefits

Tuition Assistance A permanent employee enrolled in courses of instruction related to his/her work or future advancement within the DHHS may be eligible for reimbursement of 50% to 75% of your tuition costs. Up to 9 credit hours of coursework or the equivalent may be taken during any one fiscal year.[28]

Employee Assistance Program All employees are eligible to use the Best Care Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This benefit, provided by the Methodist Hospital Health System, is designed to help employees and their families work through personal problems including, but not limited to, marital and family conflicts, grief issues, stress, legal problems, chemical dependency, financial troubles, and psychological and emotional difficulties.[28]

Pensions

Nebraska has both defined benefit retirement plans and defined contribution plans for public employees under Nebraska Public Employees Retirement Systems. The defined benefits plans are for teachers, troopers and judges. The largest pension plan is the defined benefit school employee plan 74,500 current and retired workers and has assets of $5.256 billion.[30] Most state employees, more than 21,500 current workers and retired, participate in the state's defined contribution plans, although many employees are guaranteed a 5 percent annual return no matter how their actual investments are doing.[30]

in Nebraska’s “cash balance” plan, enacted in 2003, the employee does not receive a set benefit. The employee's payout at retirement is based on what is in the account, but employees are guaranteed annual investment return of 5 percent.[31] One state official describe the plan as a “defined benefit plan, with a defined contribution flair.”[31]

The state's retirements plans account for 15% of the $751 million budget hole as of August 2010.[30] To keep the teacher and patrol plans actuarially sound the state needs approximately $112 million.[30]

Contribution Rate

Deductions are 4.8% of gross pay each pay period. The state matches the contributions at the rate of 156%.[28]

Defined Benefit Contribution Increases

The state's three defined benefit plans agreed in 2009 to increase contributions make up losses from the 2008 stock market decline.[30]

  • Teachers and school districts both agreed to a 1% increase in contributions for five years.
  • Troopers agreed to increasing their contributions by 2% to 15% of wages in 2009 and to 16 percent this year, and the state contribution went to 16%.
  • Judges agreed to a 1% increase for five years, and court fees went up $1 to pay for the employer match.

Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA)

Nebraska's defined benefit plans cap the annual COLA at 2.5%. In 2010, the COLA was just over 1%.[30]

Rate of Return

Nebraska presumes a 8.00% return rate on its pension investments.[31]

Health Insurance

Nebraska does not provide health insurance to retirees.[30]

Public Records

The Nebraska Public Records Law is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Nebraska. Sections 84-712 - 84-712.09 of the Nebraska Revised Statutes define the law.

The Nebraska Open Meetings Act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted. Sections 84-1407 to 84-1414 of the Nebraska Revised Statutes define the law.

To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see: Nebraska FOIA procedures.

External links

References