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PA Puts State Financial Data Online in the Name of Transparency

LOOKING IT UP: PennWATCH officially launched Friday, a new finance-based online database on the state's budget.

By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — Efforts to bring transparency to Pennsylvania state government have turned up a tangible product: a website full of numbers and figures for the public’s perusal.

The state unveiled its new database, PennWATCH, at a Thursday afternoon press conference. PennWATCH operates like an interactive spreadsheet separated into four categories – budget, spending, revenue and employees.

Information includes state allocations, revenue breakdowns and what payments state agencies are making, and to whom. Users can navigate through dropdown menus and search functions, and download the reports in PDF form.

Gov. Tom Corbett said PennWATCH displays “everything from how we spend our money to who we employ.” The data is the kind citizens request most often under the Right-to-Know law, such as salaries, he added.

More than 14,000 Right-to-Know requests have been filed since Corbett took office, he said. The hope is that PennWATCH will help cut down on those requests, and the time employees spend processing them, by making commonly requested information accessible online.

“This is a good starting point for people to start looking, then make a decision whether they need to have a Right-to-Know request,” Corbett said.

The state did not enter into any outside contracts to create PennWATCH, and its construction was done in-house.

Information, which will be updated monthly, is funneled to the Department of Administration from each state agency. The judiciary has set up its own version of the site.

Secretary of Administration Kelly Powell Logan said the site will be updated with new categories, should interest expand to other areas.

For example, total compensation packages will be available in the coming weeks. Now, only salaries and wages are posted, Logan said.

Some employee information, however, is excluded from the site. Employees can receive an exemption if they demonstrate that publicizing information about their name, work address, or agency could potentially put them at risk.

Logan said those exemptions cover employees who may have safety-related protection orders in place. Corbett added that those who do investigative work on behalf of the Pennsylvania State Police or attorney general’s office may also be exempt.

State Sen. Pat Brown, R-Lehigh, was a sponsor of the original PennWATCH legislation. He said technology has helped the public access the work of government.

“When I first came to Harrisburg, you had to come to Harrisburg to see a session,” said Browne, who has been an elected official since 1994.

Contact Melissa Daniels at melissa@paindependent.com

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