Office deems employee expense details of “little value” to taxpayers
July 30, 2008
Kenneth M. Braun
MIDLAND — Answering for three state departments that appeared to violate the Michigan Constitution by overspending their budgets in 2006, the Office of the Governor has declined a request that these departments regularly release detailed expenditure reports to the public. The request was made in writing in May by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which asked the departments of State Police, Corrections and Human Services to replicate the level of spending transparency now provided by the Michigan Department of State.
The MDOS has been voluntarily producing detailed quarterly expenditure reports on its Web site since last spring, after being approached by the Mackinac Center as part of the Center’s ongoing "Show Michigan the Money Project." The reports from the MDOS detail the names of vendors receiving payments, the amounts paid and the general category of service or product purchased — including expenses reimbursed to departmental employees and the names of those employees.
"This was a very reasonable request," noted Kenneth M. Braun, director of the Show Michigan the Money Project. "We merely wanted these other departments to do what the Secretary of State has already proven is possible. If the department in charge of everything from license plates to free and fair elections can do it, then why can’t the rest?"
The Office of the Governor responded with a letter stating that the executive branch would "not be participating" in the Center’s effort because state government "expenditure information" is already online at the state’s "accountability site." However, the information on that Web site falls far short of what the Center requested.
"This so-called ‘accountability’ site is devoid of spending details and provides a trivial degree of transparency," responded Braun. "The governor told us to be happy with half a page of general information per department, yet we already have one department providing more than 50 pages of spending details."
As an example, Braun points out that the single page for the Department of Human Services on the state’s accountability site will only show that more than $5 million was spent for the "travel" category through the month of June. By comparison, the Department of State’s most recent report has nine pages dedicated to reporting the names and exact travel reimbursement amounts paid to department employees. A similar disparity between the reporting standard of the Department of State and that of every other department of state government occurs when comparing reported amounts paid to vendors for supplies, services and more.
The letter from the Office of the Governor explains the omission of expense account data, saying that its Web site "does not go to the level of detail to provide individual employee names and expenses and salaries, as this level of detail provides little value to the taxpayer."
"That’s an unfortunate response to a reasonable and achievable request for greater government openness," concluded Braun. "I hope they realize this and reconsider."
Copies of the letter from the governor’s office and all other correspondence regarding this request have been posted at the Mackinac Center’s MichiganTransparency.org Web site.