Evaluation of Pennsylvania state website

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PA.gov is the website for the state of Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania State Senate stated in 2011 that it was a goal to have a state budget database for citizens to be able to use for information on the budget and budget process, maintained by the Treasurer's Office.[1] In 2012, the state launched a transparency oriented website, PennWATCH, in order to publish detailed expenditure information, budgets, and public employee salaries.[2]

Website evaluation

Budget P
Usability P
Legislative P
Executive P
Ethics P
Audits P
Contracts P
Lobbying P
Public records
State agency websitesGuide.png
Transparency grading process

In 2011 Pennsylvania earned a Sunny Awards for having a perfect website transparency score.

This website was reviewed on March 12, 2013.

The good

  • Budget (5/10 pts)
    • Current budget with detailed graphs is available on PennWATCH.[3]
    • Past budgets are posted from 2006 to the present year.[4]
    • Governor's proposed budget is available.[4]
    • The enacted budget is posted.[4]
    • Appropriations bills are posted along with a calendar of hearings.[5][6]
    • Tax information is available.[7][8]
  • Usability (5/10 pts)
    • The site has a search function and is easy to navigate.
    • PennWATCH has downloadable spending, revenue, and compensation data as PDF files.[2]
    • The state has a transparency site.[9]
  • Executive (6/10 pts)
    • Offices and agencies are listed, with contact information on their pages.[10]
    • Salaries for state officials are posted.[2]
    • The Department of State Elections office provides a calendar of key election dates.[11]
    • Statement of Financial Interests are available for officials through a search.[12]
  • Legislative (6/10 pts)
    • Offices and agencies are listed, with contact information on their pages.[13]
    • Legislative salaries are available on PennWATCH under "Senate" and "House of Representatives."[2]\
    • Committee assignments are online.[14][15]
    • The Department of State Elections office provides a calendar of key election dates.[11]
    • Statement of Financial Interests are available for officials through a search.[12]
  • Ethics (6/10 pts)
    • Pennsylvania has a State Ethics Commission.[16]
    • The State Ethics Commission posts the text of the Ethics Act[17] and ethics regulations for officials to follow.
    • The process of submitting and ethics and lobbying complaint are posted online.[18]
  • Audits (8/10 pts)
    • Audits are posted for 2001-2011.[19]
    • Performance audits are posted.[20]
  • Contracts (4/10 pts)
    • Bid opportunities and contracts are posted.[21]
  • Lobbying (3/10 pts)
    • Lobbyist lists and reports are posted.[22]
  • Public records (10/10 pts)
    • Information and forms are provided for public records requests. All agencies are required by law to post a Right to Know Officer.[23]
  • Compensation (10/10 pts)
    • Salaries are available on PennWATCH including total compensation.[2]

The bad

  • There are no charts and graphs tracking state-level spending and revenue across years available.
  • A check register is not available for state level offices and agencies.
  • No information is available on Taxpayer-funded lobbying.

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 82 out of 100.[24]

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, focused 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 required 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.[25]

Pennsylvania received an overall grade of C-, or 71%. It ranked 18 out of the 50 states.[26]

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

Pennsylvania state lobbying

Pennsylvania spent $540,000 on lobbying the federal government in 2010.[27]

Transparency Legislation


Resource Run by Includes Year URL
Recovery Pennsylvania State Stimulus tracking 2011 http://www.recovery.pa.gov/portal/server.pt/community/recovery_pa_gov/5994
Campaign Finance State Campaign finance and lobbyist disclosure 2011 http://www.campaignfinance.state.pa.us/CFHome.aspx
Pennsylvania Votes Commonwealth Foundation Look up your Legislator\'s Votes 2010 http://www.pennsylvaniavotes.org/
Follow the Money National Institute on Money in Politics Campaign contributions 2010 http://www.followthemoney.org/database/state_overview.phtml?y=2010&s=PA


State and Local Employees

In July 2010, when the state was facing furloughs of layoffs, Gov. Rendell said that he strongly supported legislation to restructure pension benefits for future public-sector unions were due a 4 percent pay increase that year. Rendell proposed that to prevent furloughs or layoffs, the unions should accept no pay increase. He conceded, however, that "[t]here is virtually no chance of that going through."[28]

According to 2008 Census data, the state of Pennsylvania and local governments in the state employed a total of 696,616 people.[29] Of those employees, 529,454 were full-time employees receiving a net pay of $2,152,542,653 per month and 167,162 were part-time employees paid $178,554,748 per month.[29] More than 57% of those employees, or 399,454 employees, were in education or higher education.[29]

State Employee Benefits


State employees receive the following 11 paid holidays[30]:

  • New Year's Day
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • Presidents' Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Veterans' Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Day After Thanksgiving
  • Christmas Day

Annual Leave

Full-time employees working a 40 hour work week earn annual leave as follows:[31]

Time of service Rate of accumulation Maximum annual leave entitlement per year
Up to 3 years 3.85% of all hours paid 80 hours (10 days)
Over 3 years to 15 years inclusive 5.77% of all hours paid 120 hours (15 days)
Over 15 years to 25 years inclusive 7.70% for all hours paid 160 hours (20 days)
Over 25 years 10% for all hours paid 208 hours (26 days)

Personal Leave

Employees receive a personal leave day in their first full year of employment in a full-time position; employees earn two personal leave days in their second year and four personal days (one per quarter) in their third year of employment.[31]

Sick Leave

The Commonwealth allows employees to accumulate sick leave at a rate of 5% of their regular paid hours, which amounts to 13 days per year for employees working 40 hour work weeks.[31]


All permanent employees who are continuously scheduled to work are eligible for the Commonwealth's life insurance coverage which is equal to the employee's salary up to $40,000.[32]

Optional insurance available to state employees includes Term Life Insurance, Dependent Term Life Insurance, Long Term Disability Insurance and Long Term Care Insurance, Auto Insurance and Home Insurance.[33]

Other Benefits

  • Family Care Account Program (FCAP) provides employees with the opportunity, through payroll deductions, to use pre-tax income to pay for family care expenses that are incurred to enable them to work. This program allows employees to pay for expenses incurred for eligible employment-related care for children, disabled elder parents and other dependents with salary exempt from federal income and social security taxes.[34]
  • Health Savings Account gives employees the opportunity to use pre-tax dollars to pay for health-related expenses.[35]


Responding to massive increases in state payments for the public pensions, Gov. Ed Rendell signed a bill to cut Pennsylvania pension benefits for newly hired state workers and school employees in November 2010.[36] The new law bought time for the state treasury and school districts to fund the two major public-sector pension plans. Besides cutting benefits for new hires, the law doubled to 10 years the vesting period for new employees. The bill also created an independent fiscal office in the legislature.[37]

Prior to the reforms initiated by Rendell, the state failed to pay the annual recommended amount to the two state pension plans for years.[38] The annual recommended contribution is the yearly amount required to cover administrative costs, the cost of benefits employees earned in a given year and the cost of paying off any unfunded liabilities. Pennsylvania increased benefits for state and school employees and lawmakers in 2001, added a cost-of-living raise for retirees in 2002, and then reduced contributions to the funds and spread costs out over a decade to soften the blow of market declines.

State Information

The Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) suffered a 28.7% investment loss in 2008, the worst of any state according to a study by the Pew Center on the States.[39] The Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System was also hit hard, posting losses of 26.5%.[39] A study by economists Joshua Rauh of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and Robert Novy-Marx of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business concluded that the Pennsylvania pension fund will run out of money in 2023.[40]

Over 500,000 people participate in the Public School Employees' Retirement System.

Plan Current Value Percentage funded Unfunded liabilities Total state employees Avg. pension
State Employees Retirement System $35 billion 84.4 percent $5.6 billion 210,000 active members $20,000
Public School Employees Retirement System $49 billion 79.2 percent $19 billion 272,000 active members $22,000

Public Records

The Pennsylvania Right to Know Act, also known as the Pennsylvania Sunshine Law, is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of governmental bodies in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

Prior to 2002, the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act was widely regarded as one of the worst in the country. Before the 2002 law, the requester bore the burden of proving that any particular state or local government record could be disclosed. The 2002 law that reversed the burden of proof so that the government unit could only decline a request if it could prove that the requested records could not be disclosed. The 2002 law also made access quicker, cheaper, and expanded the nature of records available to embrace electronic technologies. The 2002 law also permitted anonymous requests, prohibited inquiries about the reason for requests, and established appeal avenues and penalties for official obstruction.

Further landmark progress was accomplished in 2008 with a law that "flipped the presumption." Rather than enunciating statute by statute which records were open to the public, the overriding presumption of the 2008 law is that government records are public except for a finite series of exemptions. This new law went into full effect on January 1, 2009 and all state and local government government documents are presumed to be open to the public unless the agency holding them can prove otherwise. (Pennsylvania has approximately 5,000 units of government affected by the 2002 and 2008 laws.)

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

External links


  1. "Pennsylvania Senate committed to taxpayer database," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 20, 2011
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 PennWATCH, Accessed: January 6, 2013
  3. PennWATCH, Budget, Accessed January 6, 2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 PA.gov, "Past Budgets," accessed January 24, 2012
  5. House Appropriations Committee
  6. Senate Appropriations Committee
  7. PennWATCH, Revenue, Accessed: January 6, 2013
  8. PA.gov Department of Revenue, Accessed January 24, 2012
  9. PA.gov Pennsylvania Open Government, Accessed January 24, 2012
  10. PA.gov State Agencies, Accessed January 24, 2012
  11. 11.0 11.1 Pennsylvania Department of State
  12. 12.0 12.1 Statement of Financial Interests
  13. PA.gov State Agencies, Accessed January 24, 2012
  14. Senate Committee Assignments
  15. House Committee Assignments
  16. State Ethics Commission
  17. Ethics Act
  18. Ethics Complaints
  19. PA.gov, "Financial Reports," accessed January 24, 2012
  20. Performance Reports
  21. PA.gov State Procurement, Accessed January 24, 2012
  22. PA.gov Lobbyist Reports, Accessed January 24, 2012
  23. PA.gov Open Records, Accessed January 24, 2012
  24. US PIRG, Following the Money: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, March 14, 2012
  25. "50 states and no winners," State Integrity Investigation, StateIntegrity.org
  26. Pennsylvania Corruption Risk Report Card, State Integrity Investigation, StateIntegrity.org
  27. Pennsylvania on Open Secrets, 2010
  28. The Washington Post "N.J. Gov. Chris Christie opens NGA meeting with censure of public-sector unions" July 9, 2010
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 2008 Pennsylvania Public Employment U.S. Census Data
  30. Pennsylvania Government
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Personnel Rules
  32. Life Insurance
  33. Voluntary Benefits
  34. Family Care Account Program
  35. National Conference of State Legislatures State Employee Health Benefits
  36. ABC2, Rendell signs Pa. Public Pension Bill, Nov. 24, 2010
  37. ABC2, Rendell signs Pa. Public Pension Bill, Nov. 24, 2010
  38. Pittsburgh Live, Day of Reckoning Expected for Pennsylvania Public Pension Plans, April 22, 2010
  39. 39.0 39.1 Pew Center on the States "The Trillion Dollar Gap" Feb. 2010
  40. New Mexico, Study: NM state pension plan will run out of money in 13 years, Sept. 9, 2010