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Evaluation of Arkansas state website

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

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
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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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Transparency grading process

This website was reviewed on January 12, 2012.

The good

  • The site has a search function and is fairly easy to navigate.
  • State agencies are listed with contact information,[1] and a directory is available.[2]
  • Legislators[3] and executive officials[4] are listed with contact information.
  • Budgets are posted.[5]
  • Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports are posted.[6]
  • Ethics information is posted, including registered lobbyists with the state.[7]
  • Property tax rates are posted,[8] along with business tax information[9] and general tax information.[10][11]
  • Bid opportunities are posted,[12] as are statewide contracts.[13]

The bad

U.S. PIRG rating

The U.S. PIRG rated the state website an "F" on providing online access to government spending data, with a score of 8 out of 100.[15]

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.[16]

Arkansas received an overall grade of D+, or 68%. It ranked 27 out of the 50 states.[17]

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

Other state websites

Arkansas General Assembly

See also: Arkansas General Assembly

The Arkansas General Assembly website posts a variety of information including links to the House and the Senate individual web sites; information on bills, resolutions and acts; budget, meeting and committee calendars; and information on Arkansas law and the State Constitution. On the main page, visitors can find information on recent assembly news and meetings of the day.[18]

The site includes a search tool for sorting through current and past legislative bills. The tool allows visitors to search either by Act or Bill number, sponsor or cosponsor. However, if you aren't quite certain the name of the sponsoring legislator or the bill number, Arkansas offers a generic keyword search tool.[19] For visitors looking for a simple layout of recent bill activities, the site offers a "Recent Bill Activities" page where activities of the current and previous day are posted. A similar page can be found looking at "Bills Filed". A really nice and convenient tool that the site offers is a service in which recent activity or information regarding bills can be e-mailed directly to interested parties. All that is required is user registration. The page can be found here.[20]

Resources

Resource Run by Includes
Recovery Arkansas State of Arkansas Federal stimulus spending

Salaries

See also: Arkansas state government salary

Gov. Beebe announced Dec. 2, 2010, that he would reinstate cost-of-living raises for state employees.[21] The move will cost the state approximately $18 million per year, which the governor said was justified based on state general revenue collections report for November 2010.[21] That report showed gross general revenue down 13.6% for November compared with November 2009 and 1.2% below the department’s predictions but positive for the first five months of the fiscal year.[21]

According to 2008 Census data, the state of Arkansas and local governments in the state employed a total of 190,155 people.[22] Of those employees, 155,216 were full-time employees receiving a net pay of $478,078,745 per month and 34,939 were part-time employees paid $24,804,627 per month.[22] More than 40% of those employees, or 32,278 employees, were in education or higher education.[22]

The total number of employees in 2008 was up from 2007; according to 2007 Census data, the state of Arkansas had 187,503 total employees.[23]

Pensions

See also: Arkansas public pensions

The Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System was created by the Arkansas legislature's Act 177 of 1957 and provides retirement benefits for state, county, municipal, college and university employees, non-teaching public school employees, and other non-state employees.

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 Arkansas pension fund will run out of money in 2019.[24]

Teachers participate in the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System(ARTRS)[25], which was established by and is governed by Arkansas Code § 24-7-201 et. seq.[26]

Public Records

See also: Arkansas sunshine lawsuits

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act was established in 1967. It is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of governmental bodies.

The Arkansas Open Meetings Law legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

Statutes 25-19-101 through 25-19-109 define these transparency laws.

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

Transparency legislation

See also: Arkansas transparency legislation

2011

  • The Arkansas House approved a bill that would create an online checkbook of spending by all state agencies except higher education which is on a different accounting system. The bill was introduced by James McLean and is supported by Gov. Mike Beebe.[27]

2009

Approximately 11 different bills were proposed in 2009 regarding transparency legislation. Below are five examples of proposed bills:

  • House Bill 1049 was one of several bills proposed by Rep. Dan Greenberg that were designed to strengthen the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. It provided for review of a FOIA denial by the Attorney Generals' Office.[28]
  • House Bill 1050 called for requiring new laws that create exemptions to FOIA. For example, FOIA requests must identify with specificity which records or meetings the law exempts. Rep. Greenberg said, “This is kind of a blinking red light, so that from now on when somebody tries to narrow the FOI, at least we’ll know."[29]
  • House Bill 1051 proposed allowing access to criminal records for certain individuals. It was defeated 56-33, and a request by the sponsor to return the bill to committee was refused.[30][31]
  • House Bill 1052 proposed prohibiting retaliation against government employees that file FOIA requests.[32]
  • House Bill 1053 known as "The Open Checkbooks in Government Act," called for creating an online database of state expenditures.[33]

Other transparency resources

  • The National Institute on Money in Politics has a project called Follow the Money, which posts details on campaign contributions.[34]

Transparency advocates

See also: Arkansas transparency advocates

Organizations

  • FOIArkansas is a collaborative effort of Arkansas News Bureau, the Log Cabin Democrat of Conway, the Pine Bluff Commercial, the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith, The Jonesboro Sun and The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas to publicize information about public records in Arkansas.[35]
    • "FOI Survey Databases" is a collaboration of various surveys of Arkansas cities, schools, jails, and county health offices. The surveys, conducted in 1999, tested each office's compliance with the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.[36]

Blogs

See also: Arkansas blogs

External links

References

  1. Arkansas.gov, "State Agencies," accessed January 12, 2012
  2. Arkansas.gov, "State Directory," accessed January 12, 2012
  3. Arkansas.gov, "Legislative Branch," accessed January 12, 2012
  4. Arkansas.gov, "Executive Branch," accessed January 12, 2012
  5. Arkansas.gov, "Budgets," accessed January 12, 2012
  6. Arkansas.gov, "CAFR," accessed January 12, 2012
  7. Arkansas Ethics Commission, "Home page," accessed January 12, 2012
  8. Arkansas.gov, "Statewide Values and Rates," accessed January 12, 2012
  9. Arkansas.gov, "Tax Center," accessed January 12, 2012
  10. Arkansas.gov, "General Tax Information," accessed January 12, 2012
  11. Arkansas.gov, "Online Services (Taxes tab)," accessed January 12, 2012
  12. Arkansas.gov, "Bids," accessed January 12, 2012
  13. Arkansas.gov, "Statewide Contracts," accessed January 12, 2012
  14. Arkansas.gov, "FOIA," accessed January 12, 2012
  15. US PIRG, Following the Money: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, March 14, 2012
  16. "50 states and no winners," State Integrity Investigation, StateIntegrity.org
  17. Arkansas Corruption Risk Report Card, State Integrity Investigation, StateIntegrity.org
  18. Arkansas General Assembly, "Main Page," accessed March 21, 2010
  19. Arkansas General Assembly, "Advanced Search," accessed March 21, 2010
  20. Arkansas Legislature, "Batch Bills Login," accessed March 21, 2010
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 The Arkansas Democrat Gazette "Beebe revives state workers’ cost-of-living raises:" Dec. 3, 2010
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 2008 Arkansas Public Employment U.S. Census Data
  23. 2007 Public Employment Data
  24. New Mexico, Study: NM state pension plan will run out of money in 13 years, Sept. 9, 2010
  25. [1]
  26. [2]
  27. "Arkansas House approves proposal to create 'online checkbook' tracking gov't spending" March 8, 2011
  28. Text & Status of HB1049
  29. Text & Status of HB1050
  30. The Arkansas Project, "Keep the Sunshine Out?," February 13, 2009
  31. Text & Status of HB1051
  32. Text & Status of HB1052
  33. Text& Status of HB1053
  34. Follow the Money, "Arkansas 2010," accessed January 29, 2012
  35. FOIArkansas, "Main Page," accessed March 20, 2010
  36. FOIArkansas, "FOI Survey Databases," accessed March 20, 2010