I recently ran a post in which I noted reactions by some in the South Carolina State Senate to the House bill on recorded votes in the General Assembly. A “fad” they called it and “a ragged piece of legislation” which not only showed disdain for the idea of transparency, but was a slap to the lower house, which passed it unanimously.
Well, in keeping with its love affair with secrecy, the Senate also tabled a budget proviso this week that would have required public colleges and universities to post their spending online, protecting THEM from getting caught in the “ragged transparency fad.”
Bucking the practice of dark government is State Comptroller Richard Eckstrom. His agency’s homepage contains links to a number of financial transparency projects his staff has recently completed without legislation – and without needing to spend money on them. After becoming impatient with all the excuses, pushback and opposition from state agencies, Eckstrom chose instead to use his own limited but committed staff (37% vacancy rate due to budget cuts) to do these projects.
The Comptroller’s newest transparency project, to put monthly charge card spending on-line, included the colleges and universities as well as all the rest of state government. As Comptroller, Eckstrom oversees the accounting for other state agencies, but for none of the colleges and universities; each college and university has been allowed to independently acquire, maintain and operate its stand-alone accounting system. This approach wraps them in a silo and “protects” each of them from state oversight. It also guarantees students, their parents, and the taxpayers that there are significant duplicated but avoidable costs designed into higher education that habitually require increases in tuitions, student activity fees and general taxes in order to cover.
Sources advice that Comptroller Eckstrom recently spoke with legislators and the higher eds about posting their monthly charge card purchases online, but the higher eds objected that they couldn’t because of the major cost they claimed would be involved. The Comptroller wasn’t able to convince legislators otherwise, so he took on the project with his own down-sized staff. The project bypassed the “silos” and obtained files of their monthly charges directly from the bank. As of yesterday, Eckstrom’s office started reporting this information on-line for every unit of state government — including all the unwilling higher eds.
I contacted the Comptroller’s office for a response to the issue and received the following from Mr. Eckstrom:
We’ve proven time and again that transparency is mainly a matter of willingness. Thankfully, Al Gore invented the internet, which greatly simplifies the task! But too many root bound politicians still don’t seem to understand the value of being open and transparent. Still, we KNOW that government HAS TO BE more transparent. I’m absolutely committed to it. It’s not just a nice thing to be transparent, it’s a necessary thing. I keep the books for state government and I’m showing people the interesting details of how government spends tax dollars. I’m doing it in the most accessible and least costly way I can, which is on the Internet. I’ve heard that this will be the new way for government to do business in the future. Well in South Carolina, the future is now.
WSPA-TV produced this piece on the charge card initiative. Curiously, to date there has been no coverage by the printed media.