We live in a political time period marked by both extreme partisanship and pervasive incompetence. Congress hasn’t functioned well in more than a decade. Sweeping new executive branch policies are haphazardly announced on Twitter, sometimes coming as a surprise to the career officials who will be in charge of implementing them.
This year the Idaho Legislature imposed unpopular and inefficacious restrictions on Medicaid expansion when efforts to reverse the will of voters outright failed. And then lawmakers tried to enact new rules that would effectively eliminate the people’s right of the ballot initiative.
It’s easy, at such a time, to forget that government has often functioned well in the past and could do so again.
But one of our statewide elected officials — one who occupies an office you may never have heard of — has given us a welcome reminder that simple, hard work built on common values can produce impressive results.
Idaho’s state controller is basically its official accountant. You don’t hear about the state controller often because, when done well, accounting is quite boring.
But accountants can do remarkable things too.
Brandon Woolf, who spent most of his career rising up the chain in the Controller’s Office before leading it, has unveiled a powerful new website, transparent.idaho.gov, that allows any member of the public to search the state’s vast payment record database.
Want to know how much a particular business has been paid by the state through procurement contracts? Woolf’s website allows you to see it all, in detail, going back several years. Want to know how much an elected official is spending on travel? Those records are easily available. Want to know how many state employees are paid more than the governor? There are more than you might think, and it’s simple to find out.
Previously, the only way to get access to such records would be through a public records request. Many Idahoans don’t know how to file such a request, and at times they can also be costly. But with Woolf’s new website, a wealth of official state records are available with a simple search, and there is no charge.
This new site will have a double benefit, as all measures that increase government transparency do.
First, these records belong to the people the state of Idaho, and any effort to give the people access to them is welcome. That, in and of itself, is a significant good.
Equally important: Government officials now know that these financial records are easily available. If any official gets the urge to cut corners or do a favor for a friend, they will have to worry that a reporter, or an individual with a government watchdog group, or a common citizen with a particular interest, will happen upon records showing what they’ve done. So government will be more honest.
Transparent Idaho isn’t conservative or liberal. It’s simply a piece of good, honest work to uphold the basic principle of government transparency.
If the rest of our elected officials undertook straightforward, beneficial projects like Woolf has, government might be a bit more boring, but it would serve its constituents better.