The public database of Missouri state government's expenses needs some more details and should be more accessible and user-friendly, according to a report released Monday by State Auditor Nicole Galloway.
Galloway's office audited the Missouri Accountability Portal, which gives the public access to data on the state's financial transactions.
"The report found some information in the database is incomplete or inaccurate," such as by not including $743 million in expenditures reported between July 2018 and January 2019 as employee benefits, and not listing payments between state agencies — examples including "postage, utility and telecommunications costs and information technology services," according to a news release from Galloway's office.
The audit found most of the state's agencies and offices that reported postage expenditures to the state's accounting system under-reported those same expenses to the accountability portal between July 2018 and January 2019.
For example, the Department of Social Services had more than $2.5 million in postage expenses in the state's accounting system, but only about 30.7 percent of that was included in the accountability portal.
The Office of the Lieutenant Governor only had $103 in postage expenses in the state's accounting system, and $12,240 for the then-Department of Higher Education, but neither office or department reported any of those postage expenses in the accountability portal.
The audit recommended the state's Office of Administration include a summary of the transaction data for employee benefits.
The Missouri Accountability Portal is "primarily administered by the Office of Administration and includes information on state expenditures, state employee pay and federal grants. While the website received relatively high marks by outside entities when first launched, more recent reviews found the site lacked additional features available in other states," according to the news release.
More specifically, the OA's Division of Accounting primarily administers the website, and the site was built and is maintained by the OA's Information Technology Services Division.
The accountability portal was established by executive order of then Gov. Matt Blunt in 2007 and codified into law in 2009.
Galloway's audit found Missouri's accountability portal earned a score of 81 points out of a possible 100 on a review by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group — "a national non-profit organization with state affiliates" that's conducted annual surveys of all 50 states' transparency website — whereas Missouri scored 62 out of 100 in 2018's review.
The audit notes the loss of points was due to increased expectations of transparency because of improvements to other states' sites, and not because of a decline in Missouri's site.
"The 2018 report praised several states for new and improved websites with additional features that Missouri was noted as lacking, such as checkbook level reporting of individual transactions, data visualizations, data summaries and subtotals and guided searches," according to the audit.
Users can access seven different sets of state financial data through Missouri's portal: pay for all state employees who are paid through the statewide accounting system, before taxes and other deductions; state payments to vendors, contractors, grant recipients and others; governor-enacted budget restrictions; grants received by the state from the federal government; bonds and obligations issued by all political subdivisions of the state, including school districts; revenues and expenditures from the economic stimulus package signed into law by President Barack Obama, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009; and tax credits issued by the Missouri Department of Economic Development.
The news release about Galloway's audit also recommended: "The Office of Administration should evaluate ways to update the portal to address best practices and ways to transparently report open government data as outlined by a federal oversight agency. These improvements would help ensure citizens can access data that is complete, usable and functional."
Such recommended improvements include reaching out to users of the accountability portal to learn how they utilize the data and what features they would like added or modified; include consistent definitions for terms; and disclose the sources for data.
The audit of the Missouri Accountability Portal is available at https://app.auditor.mo.gov/Repository/Press/2019099440778.pdf.
The accountability portal itself is available at https://mapyourtaxes.mo.gov/MAP/Portal/Default.aspx.