Several years ago, I was told, the Senate debated making government information accessible on the Internet. A very powerful state senator purportedly opposed the proposal because he said if his constituents wanted to see government information badly enough, “They could drive to Oklahoma City and get it themselves.”
This is a perfect illustration of the Oklahoma legislators’ mindset at that time. They knew they could hide information from the taxpayers by making it hard to find, inconvenient to access and by guarding it with red tape and bureaucracy. While the information was technically accessible for all intents and purposes, it might as well have been hidden beneath the Pittsburg County courthouse.
In a few weeks, the House of Representatives Government Modernization Committee will conduct a review of the recently created transparency tools that allow you to hold your government accountable. These tools have been developed in the past few years by the Legislature, the state’s Office of Management and Enterprise Services and the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.
It has been our goal to transform Oklahoma state government from the antiquated black hole of secrecy into a leader of transparency. We are deploying new technologies to give citizens oversight.
As part of this effort, several web portals have been created: OpenBooks.ok.gov allows you to see the government’s spending, Data.ok.gov publishes hundreds of entire sets of state and federal data, Documents.ok.gov contains thousands of documents and Forms.ok.gov provides hundreds of state government forms.
Over the years, not only have we created these sites, we also have followed up on their implementation and added new transparencies. For example, OpenBooks was initially created to publish government spending, but we later added tax credit transparency to the site.
These sites have started attracting national attention. Earlier this year, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group released its 2013 transparency grade. In the past, the group had given Oklahoma a “C” grade on transparency. However, this year, the group upped Oklahoma’s score to an “A”. Oklahoma is one of just seven states to receive an “A” grade.
State Finance Director Preston Doerflinger points to an interesting fact. He states that the grade did not include all the transparency sites. By making a few technical changes in the way the sites are accessed, we may improve both public access and Oklahoma’s transparency grade. Our committee will consider this proposal in its upcoming hearing.
Additionally, in June, the Documents.ok.gov site was designated as a “2012 notable document” by the American Library Association.
The success of these sites may be directly attributed to Doerflinger, State Chief Information Officer Alex Pettit, Libraries Department Director Susan McVey and their staff.
The Government Modernization study will review the success of these initiatives and the need for additional reforms. For example, it appears now as though certain state agencies are not following the laws requiring them to submit their documents to the Oklahoma Department of Libraries where they are made public. If this is the case, it will be our duty to publicly expose the names of the offending agencies.
We have come a long way from the days when Oklahoma politicians sought to thwart transparency, and there is much more reform to come.
REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at email@example.com.