Criteria for evaluating databases
There are several criteria used to analyze state spending databases. These six benchmarks enable assessment of a database's degree of transparency. Categories used by the Show Me The Spending coalition include whether a website is searchable, publishes information on grants and contracts, posts line item expenditures, reveals department/agency budgets, and makes public employee salaries available. See the subsections below for further definition and the rationale behind using this set of criteria.
A transparency database is searchable if citizens can use specific words or phrases to find what they seek. For example, a database that merely lists grant awards in a .pdf file is not searchable. A database that has a search field, into which a user can type a phrase such as "Ohio State University" and then search for grants with that phrase, is searchable. For an example, visit the Missouri Accountability Portal employee salary database.
A transparency database meets this criterion if it contains information about the grants states make to specific entities. For example, KanView lists the grants given by the Kansas Arts Commission, and this enables taxpayers to see the recipients of grants.
A transparency database meets this criterion if it explicitly lists, not only the amounts of contracts themselves, but also which entities received the state's contracts. For example, NebraskaSpending.com lists its contracts, vendors, and the amounts of money that they have received.
Line item expenditures
A transparency database meets this criterion if it clearly shows specific, line-item expenditures. For example, the Missouri Accountability Portal shows such information.
A transparency database meets this criterion if it clearly shows the budgetary plans of a specific department. For example, NebraskaSpending.com lists its budget for 2008-2009.
Public employee salary
A transparency database meets this criterion if it allows users to search for specific employee salary information. For example, if a user types "Blunt, Matthew" into the Missouri Accountability Portal database, the Web site provides specific information about the Governor's salary.
Certain databases only include spending information about financial amounts above a certain level. If transparency legislation or an executive order requires a manager to include only those contracts valued above $5,000, that state's exemption level for contracts would be $5,000. An example of an exemption level is the Alaska Checkbook Online. Individual grants or contract amounts of less than $1,000 are not included in this database.