How Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Automate Financial Oversight

August 28, 2018 2:32 pm PDT | Data as a Service

State financial officers in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are unlocking new internal controls to reduce human error, waste, and abuse through proactive data-mining, real-time alerting, anomaly detection, and analytics.

These tools, built on the Socrata platform, improve operational insight and financial oversight. They also provide access to up-to-date data through automation.

Pennsylvania Chief Accounting Officer Anna Maria Kiehl — the first person in the state to hold that title — and Massachusetts First Deputy Comptroller Jeff Shapiro lead their states’ charges to replace archaic reporting systems with modern financial transparency programs.

Kiehl and Shapiro shared their data success stories during a session at the 2018 National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers Conference August 14 in Salt Lake City.

 

Using Data to Improve Oversight

Pennsylvania launched OpenDataPA in August 2016 after Governor Tom Wolf challenged state agencies to improve public transparency, citizen engagement, and operational oversight. Managed by the Office of Administration, OpenDataPA features dozens of government datasets available to the public focused on government performance, schools, and jobs.

Just a year later, Governor Wolf introduced the Commonwealth’s first hackathon, Code4PA, to leverage the state’s open data portal to improve civic services, increase transparency, and drive innovation between citizens and the public and private sector. 

“Having data but not being able to turn it into information is very costly.” – Anna Maria Kiehl, Pennsylvania Chief Accounting Officer

Shapiro said his state used “a lot of old-school methods,” but with Socrata’s cloud-based solution, which they call CTHRU, the state’s $60 billion budget is updated daily with spending data.

The program has earned the Commonwealth a long list of accolades, including ranking No. 1 on the Center for Data Innovation’s “Best States for Data Innovation” awards in 2017. The site also recently reached 2.25 million views in less than two years after replacing the state’s legacy transparency system.

Before CTHRU, the state’s legacy system for maintaining and sharing finance data required hundreds of business and technical hours of work to support. Now, the new portal shows payroll, budget, and spending data, and runs at 14 percent of the former cost.

“We could never hire enough people to have eyes on our data, but now millions of people have eyes on our data and are looking at what is important to them,” Shapiro said. “It’s critical to how we measure success — the idea that someone will bring anomalies or problems, and then we can do something about it.”

 

Advice for Government Finance Leaders

Since launching interactive, open data portals, state officials in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have become leaders of financial transparency. However, they recognize keeping up with technology and digital trends is a never-ending effort.

Shapiro’s advice for other agencies that are starting to think about the transformation: start small.

“Identify low-hanging fruit and get some quick successes,” Shapiro said. “A real easy win, short dollars, and the ability to maintain and be successful, gives us a lot of credit.”

Kiehl offered up the importance of getting executive sponsorship.

“Don’t wait for it to come to you — go after it,” she said. “Show what your vision is and what your needs are to bring transparency and performance, not just that we’re spending money, but how and what we’re getting for it.”

Make your finance data more available and useful to department staff. To learn how, read our guide: Best Practices for Agency Financial Data Initiatives.


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