Evaluation of Alabama state website

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

Website evaluation

Grade2.pngF
Budget P
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Usability P
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Legislative P
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Executive P
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Ethics
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Audits P
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Contracts
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Lobbying P
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Public records P
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Compensation N
600px-Red x.png
State agency websitesGuide.png
Transparency grading process

The good

  • Budget
    • The most current executive budget is listed, and executive budgets are archived for 9 years.[1]
    • Check register available with reports regarding tax expenditures.[2]
    • Annual reports are provided.[3]
  • Audits
    • Audit results posted online.[4]
    • Performance audits are posted.[5]
  • Contracts
    • Complete statements for active contracts are disclosed.[6]
    • Complete statements for awarded bids are disclosed.
    • Bids and contracts for purchases over $10,000 will be posted online.
  • Lobbying
    • Database of registered lobbyists is posted.[7]
    • All grants given to non-profit organizations are posted online.[8]
    • Lobbying database specifies lobbyist, company, and client.
  • Legislative Public Officials
    • Contact information, including e-mails, is available for all elected officials.[9]
    • Party affiliation is disclosed.
    • Committee appointments are online.
    • Roll call votes are online.[10]
    • Statement of economic interests forms are online.[11]
  • Executive Public Officials
    • Cabinet members are listed.[12]
    • There is a state employee directory search that provides phone numbers and some email addresses.[13]
  • Ethics
    • Site has an ethics commission and guidelines for ethical behavior of officials.[14]
    • Process for reporting ethics violation is available online.[15]
    • Results of ethics investigations are posted online.[16]
  • Usability
    • Site is consistent in use of web domains.
    • Internal search function is useful.
    • Information can be found in six clicks or less.
    • Information is presented in a clear and concise manner, with website being written in “plain english” instead of legal jargon.
    • Website has a consistent and easy-to-use interface, especially in regards to how the website is navigated and information organized.
    • Budgets are downloadable as PDFs.
  • Public Records
    • At least 24 hours is given notice online before a public meeting is held.[17]

The bad

  • Usability
    • Not all PDF documents are searchable.
    • Not all databases are downloadable.
  • Executive Public Officials
    • Contact information is not provided for cabinet members on the governor's cabinet page.
    • Salaries and pension benefits are not disclosed for elected officials.
    • Terms of office and date of next election are posted online.
  • Legislative Public Officials
    • Completed statement of economic interests are not provided.
    • Salaries and pension benefits are not disclosed for elected officials.
    • Terms of office and date of next election are posted online.
  • Compensation
    • Each department does not list salary and benefits for employees.
  • Public Records
    • Several departments include information on making public records requests, but there is no comprehensive information about the Alabama Public Records Law.[18]
    • Contact information, including e-mails, for the Public Information Officer for every state agency and department is not in one central location.
    • Executive sessions and appropriation meetings are not broadcast online and archived.
    • No information on how to fight public records violations.
    • Agencies do not post public records compliance reports.
  • Lobbying
    • No information on state-paid lobbying activity.
    • Agency lobbying contracts are not posted online.
    • All grants given to non-profit organizations are posted online, but the reason for the grant is not disclosed, along with the contact for organization responsible for oversight.
    • Lobbying database does not specify agency being lobbied or purpose of lobbying.
  • Audits
    • Schedule for audits is not posted.
    • Information about regular audits is not available.
  • Budgets
    • No graphs available that show spending and revenue over time.
    • Enacted budgets are not posted.
    • No evidence that all appropriations bills were posted online at least one week before being voted on or that the proposed budget will be posted seven days prior to being voted on.

U.S. PIRG rating

The U.S. PIRG rated the state website a "C+" on providing online access to government spending data, with a score of 78 out of 100.[19]

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.[20]

Alabama received an overall grade of C-, or 72%. It ranked 15 out of the 50 states.[21]

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

Other state websites

Open.alabama.gov

See also: Open Alabama

Open.alabama.gov is a state website created for "transparency and accountability in state government." In February 2009, Gov. Bob Riley signed Executive Order #46 which in turn placed the state's expenditures and allocations online. The site is divided into eight main sections:[22]

  • State spending: The state spending section includes a searchable checkbook which is updated daily Tuesday through Saturday that can be searched by category, payee and agency; monthly financial reports which includes appropriations and revenues; and Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR) through 2000.[23]
  • Plans and performance: This section includes a list of the governor's priorities; statewide planning; and the status of set goals for departments throughout the state (i.e. education and economic growth).[24]
  • Ethics: The ethic section provides a direct link to the state's Ethics Commission, which provides information on registered lobbyists as far back as 2008; annual commission reports; and commission meeting dates. Additionally the site includes full text of Alabama Ethics Law.[25]
  • Meetings and campaign finance: This section includes information on upcoming and past state department meetings. Additionally, information on campaign contributions and disbursements filed with the Secretary of State are available. Campaign contributions can be searched using the available search engine or by type (i.e. candidate campaign filings or political committee filings).[26]
  • Community Colleges: The community colleges section includes a list of community colleges throughout the state and their most recent annual financial disclosure (i.e. unaudited and detailed expenditures).[27]
  • Governor's office spending: Information on the governor's office flight logs can be found here, as well as information on the office's expenditures. All expenditures highlight the date, vendor, total cost and what type of expense was made.[28]
  • Contracts: Active state contracts and awarded bids can be found under the "contracts" section. Additionally, a copy of the "Contract Notice of Award" can be found for each contract.[29]
  • Leases: This section includes a database of leases processed with the Office of State Buildings and Space Management including "pending leases." In order to sort through the information a search function is provided where one can search by department, address, years or expense information.[30]

Alabama House

See also: Alabama House of Representatives

The Alabama House of Representatives website posts a variety of information including current lists of state representatives and standing committees. The simple layout of the website makes it easy for navigation.

The site includes a search tool - "Find Your Legislator" - to find local representatives by zip code, name or district. For each current representative the following is listed: political affiliation, contact information, committees they participate in, district they represent and a brief background.[31] Additionally the site includes a list of past house speakers but only provides details such as political affiliation and the years in which they served as house speaker.[32] A page that includes past legislators was under construction as of February 7, 2010.[33]

Additionally, the site includes a search tool for current and past legislation - "Find a Current Instrument." However, the search tool does not allow for searches by keyword and requires a bill number. The inability to search by keyword can potentially cause difficulties for visitors to the site who may not know the bill number of a piece of legislation.

Audio services are available on the website for listening to live broadcasts from the House Chamber.[34]

Alabama State Senate

See also: Alabama Senate

Like the House of Representatives website, the Alabama State Senate website offers a simple layout that provides for easy navigation. The site also includes search tools for finding senators and legislation.[35] However, the search tool - "Find a Current Instrument" - does not allow for searches by keyword and requires a bill number. The inability to search by keyword can potentially cause difficulties for visitors to the site who may not know the bill number of a piece of legislation.

Additionally the site includes a list of past senate presidents but only provides details such as political affiliation and the years in which they served as house speaker.[36] A page that includes past legislators under construction, as of February 7, 2010.[33]

Audio services are available on the website for listening to live broadcasts from the Senate Chamber.[37]

Legislation, code & constitution

The Legislation, code and state constitution website is a portal, also known as ALISON (Alabama Legislative Information System Online), that details information about current legislation, the state constitution and state code.

Transparency legislation

See also: Alabama transparency legislation

2011

  • The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill that would require elected officials and candidates for office to disclose contracts with state agencies by a vote of 96-0. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Mike Ball.[38]
  • The House also voted to require monthly reports on the condition of the General Fund and Education Budget by a vote of 97-0. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Paul DeMarco.[39]

2010

  • Alabama House Joint Resolution 347 calls on Congress to broadcast healthcare reform negotiations on C-SPAN so that every state leader and every taxpayer can view how this will affect them and what it will cost them.[40]

2009

Approximately seven different bills were proposed in 2009 regarding transparency legislation. Below are two examples of proposed bills:

  • House Bill 154 would prohibit the transferring of funds from one political action committee to another.[41] It was passed in the House on February 12, 2009 and sent to the Senate as Senate Bill 207 where it has been assigned to the Constitutions and Election Committee. The Alabama legislature has passed bills banning the transfer of these funds among political action committees each year beginning in 2000, but the bills have never become law.[42] The state legislature has received criticism for failing to pass this legislation with a local newspaper asking, "Is transparency not that important to members of the Alabama Senate?"[43]
  • House Bill 295 would require the public disclosure of the names of public officials, spouses of public officials or candidates who have a contract with or are employed by the state, county, or a municipality. It was assigned to the Government Operations Committee on February 26, 2009.[44] Its companion bill in the Senate is Senate Bill 208.[45]

Salaries

See also: Alabama state government salary

Starting October 2009, Alabama began to post state employee salary information on its government transparency website, Open Alabama.

The posted information, however, is greatly limited. The site contains no salary information for months and years prior to October 2009. Moreover, the salary information that is available from October 2009 and onwards is presented in the form of bi-weekly payments. If a user wants to find an employee's annual salary for the current fiscal year, he or she must add up each of the bi-weekly payments within that year.

In addition, it is difficult to navigate through Open Alabama's state employee checkbook. To find a state employee's salary, the user must search for the employee by agency or name.

State and Local Employees

According to 2008 Census data, the state of Alabama and local governments in the state employed a total of 324,365 people.[46] Of those employees, 266,786 were full-time employees receiving a net pay of $908,100,454 per month and 57,579 were part-time employees paid $56,199,051 per month.[46] More than 52% of those employees, or 169,824 employees, were in education or higher education.[46]

Benefits

All full-time employees of the state receive benefits on top of their salary, including health care and life-insurance.

Vacation Days

State employees have the following paid holidays[47]:

  • New Year's Day
  • Martin Luther King, Jr./Robert E. Lee's Birthday
  • George Washington/Thomas Jefferson's Birthday
  • Mardi Gras Day
  • Confederate Memorial Day
  • National Memorial Day
  • Jefferson Davis' Birthday
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day/Fraternal Day/American Indian Heritage Day
  • Veteran's Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day

Healthcare

In addition to health insurance, dental and vision insurance is available to state employees.[48]

Pensions

See also: Alabama public pensions

Retirement Systems of Alabama' is the administrator of the pension fund for employees of the state of Alabama. It is headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama. David G. Bronner is the chief executive officer. Its members include state employees, teachers and judges.[49]

According to a study by the Pew Center on the States, although Alabama has consistently made required contributions in full, the state's pension plans are under the minimum 80% funding threshold that the Government Accountability Office says is preferred by experts.[50] Despite this performance, a recent 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 Alabama pension fund will run out of money in 2023.[51]

Public Records

See also: Alabama sunshine lawsuits

The Alabama Public Records Law is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to the records of government bodies at all levels in Alabama. The law can be found at statutes 36.12.40-41 and 41.13.1 - 41.13.44 of the Code of Alabama. The law was first enacted in 1923.

The Alabama Open Meetings Act governs the methods by which public meetings are conducted. The law can be found at statutes 36.25A.1 - 36.25A.11 of the Code of Alabama.

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

Resources

Organizations

Resource Run by Includes
Open Alabama State of Alabama Spending, campaign finance, ethics, contracts
Alabama Right to Know Alabama Policy Institute Candidates, campaign promises, contributions
Follow the Money National Institute on Money in State Politics Campaign contributions

Transparency advocates

See also: Alabama transparency advocates

Individuals

  • Kathy Barnes of Marshall County, Alabama won the Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week award in May 2008 after submitting a 5-page request for Marshall County records. Specifically Barnes requested copies of citations issued by the county under its "junk ordinance." The county issued a letter saying,"It has been determined that we need clarification on certain items and time periods. Without this clarification, the Marshall County Commission cannot estimate a reasonable fee for making copies of the records and reasonable costs incurred in providing the documents, including staff research, preparation and time." In response to the county Barnes said her requests related to government fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement of public funds. After clarifying her request, county officials said they fully intended to comply with Barnes' request and added,"we have to also be aware that there are some things that are not for public access. In order to protect the rights of the rest of the public, we have to be sure it’s OK."[52][53]

Blogs

See also: Alabama blogs

See also

External links

References

  1. Alabama.gov, Executive Budgets, Accessed: Feb 4, 2013
  2. Open.Alabama.gov, Checkbook Register, Accessed: Feb 4, 2013
  3. Alabama.gov, Annual Reports, Accessed: Feb 5, 2013
  4. Open.Alabama.gov, Elected Officials, Accessed: Feb 4, 2013
  5. Smart.Alabama.gov, Performance Reports, Accessed: Feb 5, 2013
  6. Open.Alabama.gov, Active Contracts and Awarded Bids, Accessed: Feb 4, 2013
  7. Open.Alabama.gov, Ethics Commission-Lobbying, Accessed: Feb 4, 2013
  8. Open.Alabama.gov, Grants in Checkbook Register, Accessed: Feb 5, 2013
  9. Alabama.gov, Representatives, Accessed: Feb 4, 2013
  10. Alabama Legislative Information System Online, Roll Calls, Accessed: Feb 5, 2013
  11. Ethics.Alabama.gov, Statement of Economic Interests, Accessed: Feb 5, 2013
  12. Alabama.gov, Cabinet Members, Accessed: Feb 4, 2013
  13. Info.Alabama.gov, State Employee Directory Search, Accessed: Feb 5, 2013
  14. Ethics.Alabama.gov, Guidelines to Public Officials and Employees, Accessed: Feb 5, 2013
  15. Ethics.Alabama.gov, Ethics Complaint Form, Accessed: Feb 5, 2013
  16. Ethics.Alabama.gov, Search Ethics Opinions, Accessed: Feb 5, 2013
  17. Openmeetings.Alabama.gov, Meeting Notices, Accessed: Feb 10, 2013
  18. Alabama.gov, Search- open record request, Accessed: Feb 5, 2013
  19. US PIRG, Following the Money: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, March 14, 2012
  20. "50 states and no winners," State Integrity Investigation, StateIntegrity.org
  21. Alabama Corruption Risk Report Card, State Integrity Investigation, StateIntegrity.org
  22. Alabama,"Open Alabama," accessed February 18, 2010
  23. Open Alabama,"State Spending," accessed February 18, 2010
  24. Open Alabama,"State Plans and Performance," accessed February 18, 2010
  25. Open Alabama,"Ethics," accessed February 18, 2010
  26. Open Alabama,"Meetings and campaign finance," accessed February 18, 2010
  27. Open Alabama,"Community College," accessed February 18, 2010
  28. Open Alabama,"Governor's office spending," accessed February 18, 2010
  29. Open Alabama,"Contracts," accessed February 18, 2010
  30. Open Alabama,"Leases," accessed February 18, 2010
  31. Alabama House of Representatives,"Roster of House Representatives," accessed February 7, 2010
  32. Alabama House of Representatives,"Past speakers and clerks of the Alabama House of Representatives," accessed February 7, 2010
  33. 33.0 33.1 Alabama House of Representatives,"Past Legislators," accessed February 7, 2010
  34. Alabama House of Representatives,"House Audio," accessed February 7, 2010
  35. Alabama State Senate,"Roster of the Alabama State Senate," accessed February 7, 2010
  36. Alabama State Senate,"Past presidents and clerks of the Alabama Senate," accessed February 7, 2010
  37. Alabama State Senate,"Senate Audio," accessed February 7, 2010
  38. "Long-debated government transparency bill finally clears Alabama House" The Huntsville Times March 24, 2011
  39. "Ala. House votes to put more state financial records online" AP March 31, 2011
  40. Text of HJR347
  41. Text & Status of HB154
  42. The Anniston Star, Slow death of PAC-to-PAC transfers, April 20, 2009
  43. Opelika-Auburb News, Senate needs to get on ball and ban PAC to PACs, April 21, 2009
  44. Text & Status of HB295
  45. Text & Status of SB208
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 2008 Alabama Public Employment U.S. Census Data
  47. Alabama State Holidays
  48. State Employees' Health Insurance Plan Benefits
  49. The Retirement Systems of Alabama
  50. Pew Center on the States "The Trillion Dollar Gap" Feb. 2010
  51. New Mexico, Study: NM state pension plan will run out of money in 13 years, Sept. 9, 2010
  52. The Reporter,"Public records sought," May 10, 2008
  53. Open Records,"Kathy Barnes: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week," May 15, 2008