She compared OpenBook with the Massachusetts Open Checkbook, another version of a state government’s transparency efforts. The Massachusetts version, Shaw said, reveals what is currently lacking in Wisconsin—finely-grained detail on individual expenditures, down to a comparison of the amounts spent on bottled water across a set of different vendors. “This would be a more useful degree of detail for journalists,” she said.
But OpenBook Wisconsin does get a nod from Shaw for its bulk download capabilities, which offers data that is updated more frequently than what’s available for bulk download through the Massachusetts site
which Massachusetts Open Checkbook does not yet have.
The site also drew some measured support from Bill Lueders, a columnist for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism—an outlet that’s hardly cozy with the state legislature—who wrote that critics of OpenBook’s bugs and delays “may want to cut the governor some slack” because the site, while not perfect, is “a neat tool.”
With the site still in beta, there’s room for journalists and other observers to push for modifications that will make it more comprehensive tool for analysis. Some proposed changes, though, may bump up against privacy concerns. As a notice from the state’s Office of Human Resources details, OpenBook “will display fringe benefit costs in total, not by individual employee, in order to protect employee confidentiality of health care plan participation and other benefit elections. UW-Madison will also exclude payments to people who receive stipends for participating in scientific research studies.”
But more information is forthcoming, the state promises, including grant awards, better vendor information, and more detailed data from the University of Wisconsin. This sounds like useful stuff, but it will be up to—who else?—media watchdogs to make sure the state comes through.
Correction: This post originally contained inaccurate information about the bulk download function of Massachusetts Open Checkbook. The relevant sentence has been corrected. CJR regrets the error.
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