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Budget Transparency At The County Level With Open Data And APIs

As we find ourselves darker times when it comes to transparency within the federal government in the United States, I’m always on the hunt for any positive signs of transparency at the other levels of government. I can usually depend on my friends over at Socrata to help out, and they came through this week with a story on Douglas County, Kansas publishing their budget online.

“This week, Douglas County, Kansas, home to 117,000 residents, launched an Open Budget site, which provides the public with access to one of the county’s most crucial documents: the annual operating budget.” Jill Jolicoeur, Assistant to the County Administrator stated that “our goal is for Open Budget to replace the time-intensive process of developing and publishing the annual budget in a hard-copy format.” Open data and APIs is one way for resource-strapped companies can open things up, allowing external groups help share the load when it comes to auditing, analysis, visualization, and many other areas county government could use some assistance.

Douglas County provides us with another example of how we can make government more observable. There is no reason that county government can’t open up their budgets like this, and let a little sunlight into the operations. In my experience, the primary reason you want to keep things closed is when you are looking to hide corruption, incompetence, and poor technological and business decisions. I’m concerned with the bar being set by the White House right now when it comes to transparency and observability, but it doesn’t mean we can’t resist at the local level, and leverage open data and APIs to get things done more efficiently–like Douglas County is doing, and Socrata is enabling.