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Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Study: Perceptions of Government Accountability and Transparency “Far From Favorable”

The Association of Government Accountants commissioned a survey in January that was recently released that concludes that federal, state and local governments’ system of communicating financial information to taxpayers is not working.

According to the survey, the American public is most dissatisfied with government financial management information disseminated by the federal government. Of those surveyed, 72 percent say that it is important to receive this information from the federal government, but only 5 percent are satisfied with what they receive. Governments are failing to meet the expectations of its citizens, resulting in an ‘expectations gap’ between the kind of government financial reporting that citizens expect and what they get. Respondents agreed on the importance of federal, state and local governments’ financial management information being made available to the public.

  • Only 5 percent believe that having this information available to them is not important, regardless of level of government. However, among those who do receive information about how governments generate and spend money, there is a strong dissatisfaction with the information that they receive.
  • The strongest dissatisfaction is with the information about the federal government’s financial management (federal, 60 percent; state, 46 percent; local, 38 percent). A large majority of American adults (90 percent) believe that as taxpayers, they are entitled to transparent financial management minformation.
  • 57 percent take the strongest position possible that government has an obligation to provide reports that explain how the government generates and spends money.

Seventy-one percent of respondents who receive financial management information from the government, or believe it is important to receive it, say they would use the information to influence their vote. When asked about the ways in which government can demonstrate greater accountability, the most common themes are Improved Reporting (42 percent) and a different Attitude (28 percent) in reporting.

  •  The most frequent specific mentions across all categories were: Provide Open Disclosure of Spending (18 percent), Easy to Read Reports (7 percent), Be Honest (10 percent), Cut Down on Unnecessary Spending (9 percent), and Provide Information on Web sites (7 percent). The major concern with financial management across all levels of governments is the excessive amounts of unrestrained spending.

  • 23 percent mention it as their biggest concern with the federal governments’ management, while 15 percent mention it as their concern with the state and local governments.

Respondents were asked to rank the importance of each category of financial spending information across federal, state and local government. The findings indicate that respondents have clear expectations on which levels of government should deliver on which categories of information:

• At a federal level, respondents perceive health care information (75 percent) and environment information (62 percent) to be most important to them personally.

• At a state level, information about transportation (58 percent) and education (57 percent) were most important.

At a local level, information about safety (55 percent) was the single most important category.

That is just a summary of the report. You can read the two-page report here and find more information from that page. I will say this: Spotsylvania’s budget team was incredibly helpful to me this year and they are an award-winning, well-recognized group.

The budget, as proposed, is on the Web page, but it doesn’t get updated as changes are made. It is a voluminous package of numbers and charts that I have heard some people complain about because it is not very easy to understand. You just get lump sums of funding and the information is not not line by line.

Wouldn’t it be an awesome invention to have a Web-based spending meter, so that every time any local taxpayer funds are spent, it would show up on the Web, from $5 for staples to $1 million to a contractor? The updates would be daily and residents could review the expenses. This could be done much easier on the local level because there is less money to spend.


  • lgross

    I note that for many years the School System has provided a “Bill List”.

    Here is where they’re at:

    Does anyone know what the Bill Lists are and why they are provided?

    They seem like something that ordinarily would not be provided unless the State requires it.

  • lgross

    I noticed a short discussion where a question touched on the idea of paying overtime verses hiring additional employees…. in terms of cost-effectiveness

    .. and I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but I “thought” I hear a response that base salaries without adding overtime would be “not competitive”.

    .. anyone know anymore about the use of overtime?

    this morning the WashPO reports that [some] firefighters in Mountgomery County Maryland make over 200K a year.

    But what the article did not say was what the base salary is and how much more the average fire fighter makes in overtime.

    I might well me that higher base salaries need to be discussed but the overtime seems to be a “back door” non-transparent budget approach to me.