WAYNE — A newly launched website is allowing West Virginia government to become as transparent as it has ever been.
The Office of the State Auditor, in combination with OpenGov, launched a government transparency website (www.wvCheckbook.gov) allowing citizens the same access to financial records as government officials in the capital city of Charleston have.
"West Virginia believes that transparency leads to more effective and accountable government, and a more informed and engaged community," reads the websites welcome banner. "We invite you to explore the state's financial data, including how the state generates revenue, and how it spends it."
State Auditor J.B. McCuskey said transparency was top priority upon his taking office, and that even in the early stages the progress has moved the Mountain State from a face in the crowd to a front runner in that category.
"I wanted to make West Virginia the most transparent state in the United States, that was my goal," McCuskey said in a presentation at the Wayne County Commission meeting last week. "We had a transparency website that was good, but we undertook to this website. Eight months after we started we were ranked number one in the country as the most transparent state in the U.S."
On the website, anyone can find information about where West Virginia's revenue generates from,
in addition to how it is spent. The information is presented in an easy-to-read layout and can even go as far in depth as logging individual purchases. McCuskey said it is an unfiltered vantage point for people of the Mountain State.
"You are at the mercy, absent this website, of the governor's office telling you what's going on. There isn't a politician on earth that doesn't give you information through their own filter and their own lens for a purpose," McCuskey said. "What this website does is it eliminates the filter, eliminates the lens and gives every citizen the opportunity to have the same information as the bureaucrats in Charleston do."
Individual counties still have control over website content, but the idea is to make financial information available that was hidden from the public prior to the website's launch. Personal financial records are not viewable through the website, just company cost. McCuskey said that while being transparent is the goal, being transparent in the proper way is also important to the operation.
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits at the local level is the lowered cost for a yearly audit, which McCuskey said can average around $25,000 annually. However, with all financial data already uploaded, that cost takes a tremendous cut.
"This website has the ability to significantly lower your audit costs by using real-time data, the counties are much better at spending taxpayer money than the state is. That is evident from a multitude of factors, but the things that (the county does) are more important to people's everyday lives than what (the state does), typically. It's our goal to get as much money back to (the county) as possible so that you can spend it better than we do."
In this case, real-time does not mean instantaneous but McCuskey said it does provide the information much faster than one could attain it when file a FOIA request.
"They need to know as soon as it's practical that you can get it to them. Our website runs about 24 hours behind, but it's information that they wouldn't have had access to it at all before. It's the closest snapshot to real-time as you can get."
As of June 11, there were seven counties that have expressed interest in purchasing their own webpage through OpenGov - Monongalia, Putnam, Wayne, Berkeley, Pendleton, Gilmer and Lewis. Counties can purchase access to their own website that McCuskey said will not exactly mirror the WV Checkbook site, but will have the same functionality.
The website service is valued at $250,000, but McCuskey said it is available for county use for $3,000 for the first year with the rate decreasing to $1,800 for each subsequent year.
McCuskey said he plans on meeting with all 55 counties in West Virginia with the hope of getting the entire state on board.
Follow reporter Luke Creasy on Twitter @lewk_creasy