Innovator Spotlight: Tom Shack

June 22, 2017 10:00 am PDT | Public Finance

Thomas ShackTom Shack, Comptroller of Massachusetts, has spent enough years working in government finance to understand how it could be done better. In particular, he wants to allow for more sharing of data within his teams and with the public so more innovation can happen. With these goals in mind, Shack has blazed a trail for statewide financial transparency that opens the doors to nearly endless innovation.

 

“No one is going to hire their way out of the silver tsunami. We’re going to have to tech our way out of it.” —Tom Shack, NASCIO 2017

Records show that 30 percent of Massachusetts state workforce is retirement eligible and 45 percent of staff will be at or near retirement age in the next five years. While those numbers may seem daunting to some, Shack knows that implementing technology is the answer to keeping the state sustainable. This approach is why he recently launched the CTHRU open data and open records platform powered by Socrata to show payroll, budget, and spending data and create an easier path to statewide costs savings. Case in point: While the original system was costly and required hundreds of hours to maintain CTHRU cost just 14 percent of that to get started and run.

The platform hosts massive amounts of financial data, including approximately 21 million accounting transactions dating back to 2010. All data is regularly updated on a weekly basis and is visualized to make it easy for staff and community members to understand and utilize.

“We literally cut out not just the middle man, we’ve cut out a whole group and a layer of bureaucracy around those public records requests that is going to allow just free access and open access to the data and that is what makes us, both the comptroller’s office and MA, unique.” —Tom Shack, State House News Service

Shack is so dedicated to cutting through red tape to boost innovation in government that he created his own word to help describe what he’s trying to overcome: “innovacracy.” That’s when the government takes innovative ideas and superimposes a bureaucratic framework on them. He recognizes that by taking a new approach to tracking and evaluating financial data, bureaucratic barriers are broken down and information is put into the hands of citizens.

“Rather than having the eyes of the comptroller staff looking at the data…we have millions of eyes in Massachusetts that are now our quality assurance group.” —Tom Shack, NASCIO 2017

The push for financial transparency has also boosted community engagement and strengthened trust between government agencies and their citizens. For example, during a visit to an investigative journalism class, Shack recently encouraged local graduate students to look through the data on the CTHRU platform and identify any flaws or issues they may discover. Since then, approximately 15 reporters have approached him with questions about potential issues.

What’s more, there have been more than 150,000 page views and more than 20,000 unique engaged users reported on the portal within the last six months. The open data has also sparked media inquiries in payroll salaries and House of Representatives’ spending over a two-year period.

Want to Learn More?

Curious to hear more from Tom Schack, his team, and the citizens of Massachusetts? Learn how easy access to the state’s finances is transforming the way the government and community work together.

Read “Massachusetts Cuts Costs and Invites Citizens to Dig into Financial Facts Online.”

 


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