Evaluation of Virginia state website

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Virginia.gov is the website for the state of Virginia. In August of 2010, Virginia also launched ARRA Virginia to show how the states $5.5 billion in stimulus dollars are being spent.[1]

Website evaluation

Grade2.pngB
Budget
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Usability
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Elected Officials
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Administrative Officials
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Ethics N
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Audits
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Contracts
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Lobbying P
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Public records
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Taxes
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Transparency grading process


This website was reviewed on January 26, 2012.

The good

  • The site has a search function and is fairly easy to navigate.
  • An agency directory is posted with contact information listed.[2]
  • An employee directory is posted with contact information.[3]
  • Budgets are posted.[4]
  • Audits are posted.[5]
  • Contracts are posted in searchable databases.[6][7]
  • Tax information is available.[8]
  • Information and forms are provided for Virginia Freedom of Information Act records requests.[9]
  • Lobbyist lists and reports are posted in a searchable database.[10]

The bad

U.S. PIRG rating

The U.S. PIRG rated the state website an "B-" on providing online access to government spending data, with a score of 81 out of 100.[11]

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 accruing 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.[12]

Virginia received an overall grade of F, or 55%. It ranked 47 out of the 50 states.[13]

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

Transparency Legislation

Salaries

Legislators' Salary

Virginia state senators receive an annual salary of $18,000 and state representatives receive $17,640 per year.[14] Legislators receive a per diem of $135-$169 per day during the legislative session as set by the compensation commission.[14]

State and Local Employees

According to 2008 Census data, the state of Virginia and local governments in the state employed a total of 526,602 people.[15] Of those employees, 402,487 were full-time employees receiving a net pay of $1,577,251,433 per month and 124,115 were part-time employees paid $131,107,597 per month.[15] More than 59% of those employees, or 312,402 employees, were in education or higher education.[15] Since 2009, the number of local government employees has decreased approximately 12,000.[16]

Currently, of these public jobs, 347 are for board and commission roles. In 2010, the Governor launched a reform commission that will look to consolidate and combine these programs. For example, there are currently three potato commissions.[17]

State employees last received a raise in Nov. 2007.[18] They will receive a one-time holiday bonus of 3% in Dec. 2010.[18] Gov. McDonnell said in Oct. 2010 that his amendments to the final year of the FY2011-12 budget would not include pay raises for state workers.[19]

In Virginia, it is illegal for the government to enter into a formal bargaining relationship with the public sector.[20]

State Employee Benefits

Holidays

Commonwealth employees receive the following 12 paid holidays:[21]

  • New Year's Day
  • Lee-Jackson Day
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • George Washington Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Veteran's Day
  • Thanksgiving and the day after Thanksgiving
  • Christmas Day

Annual Leave

Annual Leave is accrued as follows[22]:

Years of Service Accrual Rate Per Pay Period Total Hours Accrued per Year Maximum Leave Carryover
Less than 5 years 4 hours 96 hours (12 days) 192 hours (24 days)
5 years 5 hours 120 hours (15 days) 240 hours (30 days)
10 years 6 hours 144 hours (18 days) 288 hours (36 days)
15 years 7 hours 168 hours (21 days) 336 hours (42 days)
20 years 8 hours 192 hours (24 days) 384 hours (48 days)
25 years 9 hours 216 hours (27 days) 432 hours (54 days)

Sick Leave

Employees accrue 5 hours of sick leave, or proportionate, at the end of each pay period. Employees have access to 48 hours of accrued sick leave to use for absences for the illness or death of an immediate family member.[22]

Other Leave

Leave is also granted for military service, organ donation, jury duty and court appearances. A maximum of 16 hours per calendar year is credited to eligible employees to use to provide service within their communities. Employees may perform service as a volunteer member of a community organization or participate in their children's school activities or perform volunteer work that has been approved through the school administration.[22]

Insurance

The Commonwealth of Virginia health benefits program offers the COVA Care and COVA HDHP (High Deductible Health Plan) statewide to full-time and part-time classified employees, early retirees and certain family members. The Kaiser Permanente regional health maintenance organization is available to members in Northern Virginia only.[21]

The Virginia Sickness and Disability Plan(VSDP) provides state employees with income security when they cannot work because of a partial or total disability. The program includes sick, family and personal leave; short-term disability benefits; long-term disability benefits and a long-term care program. VSDP benefits cover non-work-related and work-related conditions.[23]

State employees are eligible to apply for optional life insurance coverage to enroll themselves, spouse, and/or eligible children. The employee pays the premiums.[24] In addition, the Commonwealth offers long-term care insurance to eligible state employees, retirees and certain family members.[21]

Other Benefits

  • Educational Assistance Such assistance varies and is dependent upon the policies and procedures of individual state agencies.[21]
  • Employee Assistance Program The program offers up to four sessions at no charge for such services as mental health, alcohol or drug abuse assessment, child or elder care, grief counseling and legal or financial services.[25]
  • Flexible Reimbursement Account The account allows employees who are health plan members to set aside part of their salary on a pre-tax basis each pay period to pay for out-of-pocket medical or dependent care expenses.[26]

Resources

Resource Run by Includes Year URL
ARRA State Tracks federal stimulus spending 2011 http://www.arra.virginia.gov/
Open Virginia State Spending, revenue, budgets 2011 http://virginia.gov/cmsportal3/government_4096/open_government_4097/
Commonwealth Data Point State Spending, revenue, debt, demographics, state purchase cards, agency checkbook 2011 http://datapoint.apa.virginia.gov/
Virginia Performs State Performance reports 2010 http://vaperforms.virginia.gov/
Virginia State Contracts State State contracts 2011 http://dps.dgs.virginia.gov/dps/contracts/covacontractsinfo.aspx
Follow the Money National Institute on Money in Politics Campaign contributions 2010 http://www.followthemoney.org/database/state_overview.phtml?y=2010&s=VA

Pensions

Membership in the Virginia Retirement System defined benefit plan is automatic and paid by the state.

Contribution Rates

New state employees are required to contribute 5% of creditable compensation (only local employers would be allowed to pick up this contribution) to the Virginia Retirement System.[27][28]

Eligibility

Employees become vested with the accumulation of five years of credited service. A vested member is eligible to receive a reduced retirement benefit at age 55 with at least five years of service. Employees can receive a reduced benefit as early as age 50 with at least 10 years of state service. Employees can retire with unreduced benefits at age 50 with at least 30 years of service or age 65 with at least five years of state service. The unreduced monthly retirement benefit is calculated as 1.7% times the years of creditable service, times the employee's average monthly salary during their highest 36 consecutive months of creditable compensation.[21][29]

Funding Levels

The state's pension liabilities can be calculated in a variety of ways, which yield different numbers. Below are the numbers as calculated by to the Pew Center on the States,[30] the American Enterprise Institute[31] and Professors Robert Novy-Marx of the University of Chicago and Joshua Rauh of Northwestern University, Kellogg Graduate School of Management.[32]

In Thousands
PEW (2008) AEI (2008) Kellogg (2009)
$10,723,000 $53,783,973 $48,300,000

Other information from the Pew Center on the States Feb. 2010 publication "The Trillion Dollar Gap":

State Pension Funding Levels 2008 (figures are in thousands)[33]
Latest liability Latest unfunded liability Annual required contribution Latest actual contribution
$65,164,000 $10,723,000 $1,486,768 $1,375,894
State Retiree Healthcare and Other Non-Pension Benefits Funding 2008 (figures are in thousands)[33]
Latest liability Latest unfunded liability Annual required contribution Latest actual contribution
$3,963,000 $2,621,000 $541,163 $446,321
Underfunded pension liabilities
Number of pension plans Pension assets ($bn) Stated liabilities ($bn) Funding status (% of tax revenue)
1 $41.3 $61.6 -317%

This data is based on projected data from 2008 census data.[34] In 2008, $1.94 trillion was set aside for pensions, but it is estimated that states have $5.17 trillion in unfunded liabilities.

Public Records

The Freedom of Information Act is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Virginia.

The Virginia Open Meetings Law, under the Freedom of Information Act, legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

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

External links

References

  1. Watchdog, VA Governor McDonnell launches new stimulus website, August 24, 2010
  2. Virginia.gov, "Agency Directory," accessed January 26, 2012
  3. Virginia.gov, "Employee Directory," accessed January 26, 2012
  4. Virginia.gov, "Budget," accessed January 26, 2012
  5. Virginia.gov, "Financial Reporting," accessed January 26, 2012
  6. Virginia.gov, "COVA Contracts," accessed January 26, 2012
  7. Virginia.gov, "Statewide Contracts," accessed January 26, 2012
  8. Virginia.gov, "Department of Taxation," accessed January 26, 2012
  9. Virginia.gov, "FOIA Advisory Council," accessed January 26, 2012
  10. Virginia.gov, "Lobbyist Database," accessed January 26, 2012
  11. US PIRG, Following the Money: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, March 14, 2012
  12. "50 states and no winners," State Integrity Investigation, StateIntegrity.org
  13. Virginia Corruption Risk Report Card, State Integrity Investigation, StateIntegrity.org
  14. 14.0 14.1 National Conference of State Legislators 2010 Legislator Compensation Data
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 2008 Illinois Public Employment U.S. Census Data
  16. The Staunton News Leader "State not likely to give localities much" Dec. 8, 2010
  17. July 28, 2010"
  18. 18.0 18.1 CNNMoney.com "Feeling flush: Virginia's budget surplus doubles" Aug. 19, 2010
  19. Businessweek "Va. gov: no state employee pay raises in sight" Oct. 26, 2010
  20. Reuters "Several U.S. states consider union limits" Feb. 25, 2011
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 Benefits Description
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Leaves of Absence
  23. Virginia Sickness and Disability Program
  24. Life Insurance
  25. Employee Assistant Program
  26. Flex Account overview
  27. National Conference of State Legislators "Pensions and Retirement Plan Enactments in 2010 State Legislatures" July 19, 2010
  28. Virginia House Bill 1189 2010 session
  29. VRS Defined Benefit
  30. "State Pensions and Retiree Healthcare Benefits: The Trillion Dollar Gap,” Pew Center on the States, accessed January 4, 2011
  31. Biggs, Andrew, “The Market Value of Public-Sector Pension Deficits,” AEI Outlook Series, no. 1 (2010)
  32. Novy-Marx, Robert and Joshua Rauh, 2010, "Public Pension Promises: How Big Are They and What Are They Worth," Journal of Finance (forthcoming)
  33. 33.0 33.1 Pew Center on the States "The Trillion Dollar Gap" Feb. 2010
  34. Northwestern University, The Liabilities and Risks of State-Sponsored Pension Plans, May 2010