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12/19/2018 11:06 AM
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=H&SPick=20190&cosponId=26559
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House of Representatives
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session

MEMORANDUM

Posted: December 3, 2018 10:35 AM
From: Representative Jim Cox
To: All House members
Subject: PennWATCH 2.0
 
In 2011, the legislature increased transparency in state government and showed Pennsylvania taxpayers where every dime of their money was being spent by voting to enact the PennWATCH website.

At the time of its launch, this website was an innovative one-stop-shop where the media and taxpayers could go to find details about which programs are receiving what amounts of tax dollars.

Members of the media have recently pointed out that the website, which is managed by the Governor’s Office of Administration, is now fraught with data deficiencies, outdated, and difficult to navigate. They have even questioned the integrity of the information available. PennWATCH has not kept up with technology and has failed to remain an innovative tool for inquisitive users . We can and should do better for the taxpayers who foot the state government’s bills.

As a guiding principle, PennWATCH should show anything that can be obtained via Right-To-Know requests. Its users should be able to easily arrange the data available to fit his or her objective, such as year-to-year tax revenue comparison. Macro data is not enough. Users should have the ability to drill down past the vague line-item categories in our state budget and get a clear picture of the priorities of their elected decision-makers. Most importantly, the site must be independently managed to ensure the integrity and comprehensiveness of the data is upheld through administrative changes and technological advancements.

It’s time to take transparency a step further. I am re-introducing legislation (former H.B. 1562), to transfer management of PennWATCH to the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO). The legislation also includes the creation of an advisory committee comprised of users who will advise the IFO on usability issues and to guide PennWATCH’s continued development.

This legislation also expands the data available online to include:
  • Budget information that is sent by the Governor to the Legislature, including agency-specific materials.
  • Official revenue estimates for each fiscal year.
  • All reports required by statute to be submitted to the General Assembly.
  • Links to official agency social media accounts, not simply websites.

These changes will ensure the public and the media have a better tool that furthers our goals for transparency and accountability in state government. We can be the most transparent state government in the country. Our taxpayers deserve it.

Please join me in co-sponsoring this legislation. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Prior Co-sponsors: BERNSTINE, GABLER, GILLEN, GROVE, KAUFER, KAUFFMAN, MALONEY, MILLARD, B. MILLER, PICKETT, SAYLOR, STEPHENS, and TOEPEL