Transparency checklist

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A transparency checklist is a 10 point list of website transparency features that citizens in any part of the United States should be able to find when they visit the websites of counties, cities, school districts and state agencies. While steps like the Freedom of Information Act have led to a more open government.

The 10 point transparency checklist was created by Sunshine Review. They believed that government should participate in affirmative disclosure. As such, they conducted transparency evaluations to encourage open government, a political doctrine which holds that the business of government and state administration should be opened at all levels to effective public scrutiny and oversight.

Requesting an evaluation

Transparency evaluations are conducted upon request. Please email us to request an evaluation. Ballotpedia does not conduct comprehensive, annual evaluations for all municipalities or school districts.

In your request please include the following:

  • a link to the website, and
  • links to where the information (see checklist parameters) that will be evaluated can be found on the website.

Comments or questions

If you find that any of the information that is posted on your government entity's website is false, not up-to-date, or has been taken down please send an email to let us know. We will review the information and evaluate if the government entity's score needs to be adjusted.

Methodology

Sunshine Review approached transparency with an attitude that "if it's there, then it's transparent." To decide what should be on the checklist, they sent out surveys to various organizations and compiled the most common items on the list of responses to create our transparency checklist. Evaluations included the following 10 basic items, items they felt should be addressed and provided by government websites.

The 10 point transparency list

Transparency Grade
Grade2.pngB
Budget
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Meetings Y
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Elected Officials Y
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Administrative Officials Y
600px-Yes check.png
Permits, zoning
{{{1}}}
Audits
{{{1}}}
Contracts N
600px-Red x.png
Lobbying N
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Public records
{{{1}}}
Local taxes
{{{1}}}
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Transparency grading process

The checklists are unique to the entity being evaluated with school districts and statewide websites having a different set of criteria. The most common factors of the transparency checklist are listed below with the rational for why these items should be on every government website. Anderson County, S.C. provides an example of an evaluated website.

Most common transparency checklist parameters explained
Parameter Description Rationale
Budgets The website should include the current budget. Bonus points if the website shows the budgets for previous years and a graph showing increases or decreases over time to help citizens evaluate and understand trends in local government spending. The checkbook register and credit card receipts should also be posted. Budgets show the big picture of what goals and priorities the government established for the year. Additionally, the details within a state budget serve as a comparative tool to determine how the government performed in relation to past years.
Open meeting laws The website should include notices about public meetings of its governing board and minutes of past meetings. Also, meeting agendas for future and/or past meetings should be available. Meetings are one of the few ways the public can engage in true dialogue with representatives. Given the reality of busy schedules, governments should offer an alternative to meeting attendance by posting meetings, agendas, locations and minutes on their website.
Elected officials The website should include names of elected officials and their contact information, including email addresses. Also, the elected official's voting record should be available. Officials are elected to represent their constituents. In order to do so effectively they should be engaged in regular dialogue and be as accessible as possibly by providing a variety of ways to be contacted (email, phone, fax, by mail, for example).
Administrative officials The website should feature a list of administrative officials. Specifically, it should include the names of key administrators and their contact information, including e-mail addresses. Administrative staff are knowledgeable resources that provide constituent services and often enforce ordinances. Because of these roles it is imperative for them to be available to constituents by providing contact information to the heads of each department, in addition to general contact information.
Building permits and zoning At the very least, building permit and zoning applications should be available for download online. In addition, constituents should be able to submit applications and track the process online. Almost all government application processes are already digitized. By facilitating the process online government could cut down on cost and time barriers as well as improve communication and services to their constituents.
Audits The website should include regular audit information including: report results, audit schedules and performance audits for government programs. While budgets give the big picture to constituents, an audit reveals how well the government performs on their goals and enables constituents to hold them accountable.
Contracts The website should include rules governing contracts posted online; including bids and contracts for purchases of more than $10,000, and the vendor's campaign contributions posted with contract. Contracts should be available for review so constituents can evaluate the contract and evaluate if the government chose the best solution for its constituents.
Lobbying If the unit of government belongs to any government sector lobbying associations that it helps to fund by paying association or membership dues, that information should be disclosed on the government agency's website. Almost all government entities have lobbyists on retainer or are members of an association that lobbies on their behalf. Making this information available can help constituents determine if the actions benefit the community.
Public records The website should include the name of the person who is in charge of fulfilling open records requests, along with contact information. The government is obligated by law to answer FOIA requests. By posting an individual contact, it creates an avenue which should ease the way for constituents to file their requests.
Taxes The website should include a central location for all tax information, including state fees such as drivers' licenses, tax documents for all elected officials, and each agencies sources of revenue. Disclosing tax burdens accurately reflects the cost of living.

School checklist

Main page: School transparency checklist

Note that the checklist is tailored for information that is or should be readily available on school websites. This includes academic performance documents such as test scores, dropout and graduation rates.

State agency checklist

Main page: State transparency checklist

Note checklist parameter differences such as "lobbying/advocacy," "elected officials" and "FOIA" information.

Recent news

This section displays the most recent stories in a google news search for the term "U.S. + Government + Transparency"

All stories may not be relevant to this official due to the nature of the search engine.

U.S. government transparency News Feed

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See also

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