Brandon Woolf Transparent Idaho

Idaho state Controller Brandon Woolf briefs reporters and others on a major upgrade he unveiled to Transparent Idaho, the state’s open-data transparency website.

POCATELLO — State Controller Brandon Woolf believes an upgrade to his website that went live Tuesday effectively creates 1.7 million auditors for the state.

Woolf launched “Transparent Idaho,” transparent.idaho.gov, in 2012 to provide a portal for the public to check on government spending and salaries. The new update expands the information accessible through the site to include expenditures down to individual contracts with specific vendors.

Woolf explained it also allows the public to customize data. The site includes about 10 million state transactions made each year and will cover an archive of five fiscal years, plus the current year.

“The ability to slice and dice the data, it’s so much more powerful to look at it that way versus a static PDF,” said Woolf, whose office is responsible for paying all of the state’s bills, totaling about $10 billion per year.

The website is intended to move the website toward Woolf’s long-sought goal of making the state’s checkbook-level financial information easily available and searchable online.

By “shining light in dark corners,” Woolf believes the website will create a culture of transparency, thereby deterring fraud and improving confidence in government.

The site’s data is updated nightly and has information ranging from state employee salaries to payments made on state contracts to expenditures on travel, employee counts by agency and more.

“This is truly our opportunity to open the books,” Woolf said. “This is the citizens’ money, and they have the right to know how that money is being spent.”

During a recent demonstration of the new website at Pocatello City Hall, Woolf used the example of government spending on pizza to demonstrate the level of detail it can provide on spending. Records show workers with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game really like pizza. The state has paid a total of $142,040 to businesses with the word “pizza” in their names since the start of Fiscal Year 2015. Fish and Game spent $8,439 on pizza-named businesses in Fiscal Year 2018 alone. Idaho Pizza Co. in Nampa was especially popular, with the department spending $1,748 on its offerings that year.

Woolf said he would like to expand the records to also cover state cities, counties and school districts.

“Some are a little apprehensive — again it’s that culture change — but that’s my vision,” Woolf said.

Woolf is the twice-elected state controller; he first started working in the state controller’s office as an intern in 1997, working his way up through an array of positions there over the years, and holds an MBA from Boise State University and a political science degree from Utah State University.

Woolf said the data should also assist policy makers in decision-making.

The current site at transparent.idaho.gov will get new tools including more dynamic charts and reports; new ways to view and sort the data and ways to download or share it; and increased searchability and detail.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.