The following commentary first appeared on the website of the Financial Information System for California. 

Last month we reached an important milestone when Open FI$Cal, the state’s financial transparency portal, began displaying data from virtually every department transacting in the system. Getting all departments’ expenditure data into Open FI$Cal fulfills one of our major goals — to increase the transparency of state spending in California.

The site now allows the public to explore spending data from 149 departments, representing 65 percent of all state expenditures. Housing all of this data in a single place spurs citizen engagement and promotes innovation by letting other people build on the data. It also improves internal transparency, because for the first time departments can see how their spending compares to others at a detailed level.

All of this enhances the ability of citizens to understand how the government of California — the fifth-largest economy in the world — spends taxpayer dollars and conducts its business. It also gives the Legislature a new window into state spending, which will allow our lawmakers to make better-informed decisions.

In recent years, California has ranked at or near the bottom nationally when it comes to financial transparency. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG) rated California last among the 50 states in 2016 and 48th in 2018. I hope and expect that our progress on Open FI$Cal will move us up the rankings.

Even with our transparency site displaying data from almost all FI$Cal departments, there is more we can do. That wealth of data is of limited benefit if people don’t understand the best ways to view and access it. So we will do more to explain what the data means and how businesses, interest groups and the public can put it to use.

We also want to add an application program interface (API) into Open FI$Cal to allow outside websites and other applications to automatically upload the data as soon as it enters Open FI$Cal each month. And we’ll start exploring other data sets we can add to the site to continue to boost its value.

We’re making improvements on the back end as well; we are in the process of rolling out a new, more powerful business intelligence tool to allow departments to review their data before it is added to the site.

I want to thank the departments for all the work they did and continue to do to review their data for accuracy and confidentiality. Open FI$Cal is better for your cooperation and feedback. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with all of you as we work to better serve California’s citizens by improving the state’s financial transparency.