The State of Alaska Online Checkbook is intended to provide an easy to use platform for Alaskans to have visibility and transparency into State spending. It is an important tool for Alaskans and it is the State’s intention to continue to provide it to the public. However, the tool is only as useful as it is accurate and, as we all know, an inaccurate Checkbook only causes confusion and distrust.
Transparency into state financial transactions is critical for good government, and this administration fully supports the creation of a comprehensive online Checkbook that is open and understandable to the people of Alaska. As such, we applaud Sen. Wielechowski’s efforts to bring that sort of transparency to the state’s finances and accounting when he recently created his own version of an online checkbook.
Unfortunately both the senator’s and the Department of Administration’s versions of the online checkbook have errors, in part because they pull data from the same place. For example, vendor payments are reported incorrectly, or the payments are missing altogether. Also in both versions, no purchasing card transaction data is available.
The senator has proposed legislation “intended to allow people of the state to identify and discover state revenues and expenditures.” The bill delineates multiple revenue and expenditure comparisons to be included in the checkbook. However, neither the senator’s nor DOA’s checkbooks include these things. They do not show revenues of any type; total general fund versus expenditures; total assets versus liabilities at the end of the fiscal year and the preceding 10 years; number of full-time, part-time and temporary employees grouped by agency; number of independent contractors engaged by each agency; or total long-term debt owed by the state and by agency.
We agree that the state needs a comprehensive and accurate online checkbook, which is why DOA pulled the current one down. Building a proper online checkbook is a difficult task that will require the cooperation of accountants, database administrators, and webmasters to ensure information is accurately, consistently, and clearly reported to the public. Creating such a tool will take the dedication of both direct labor and financial resources.
DOA’s first order of financial transparency business is to complete the current upgrade of the state’s enterprise resource planning system — IRIS — to the latest technology. A proper online checkbook can be coordinated with the IRIS upgrade, and a system of checks and balances can be integrated into the process. DOA looks forward to working with the Legislature to secure the additional resources needed to provide best-in-class transparency into state government finances.
Kelly Tshibaka is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration.