Missouri has a rocky history when it comes to transparency and federal relief. A 2011 audit of how Missouri spent 2009 stimulus dollars found poor documentation of how federal funds were spent and state agencies resistant to more stringent measures of transparency.
Ignoring the debatable merits of the bill, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (President Obama’s stimulus package), required reporting on every project down to the subcontractor level and taxpayers were supposed to have near-real-time ability to see how funds were being spent. This act spurred many states to enact increased transparency measures. It is disappointing to learn that Missouri took a step backward at a time when much of the country was moving forward. The auditor noted, “When there’s inadequate documentation, you don’t know if there’s waste, fraud or abuse.”
Has Missouri learned from its mistakes? Some governmental bodies appear to be transparent, if not exercising fiscal restraint, with their emergency spending. The State Treasurer’s Office is publishing CARES Act state government relief fund spending down to the vendor and item purchased. St. Louis County and City both have websites publishing their emergency spending, showing when, where, and on what the money was spent. The county also publishes future committed spending. Close-fisted spending habits have led some to question their emergency priorities, but it’s the transparency portals that inform such questioning. Franklin and Jackson Counties plan to release spending details in the future. However, no other major county or city has yet published such coronavirus-specific spending.
Some state agencies have published the amount of federal money they received but did not specify how they spent or will spend it. A few identified potential categories of expenses—such as the Department of Higher Education, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Department of Transportation—but did not provide details.
Why aren’t all state agencies and political subdivisions willing to show how they are spending taxpayer funds? Shouldn’t agencies receiving relief funds, i.e., taxpayer money, want to demonstrate that the money is being put to good use? With today’s technology, they can make such data easily accessible, complete, and accurate. If a county or agency is unable to publish this information on its own, it can send the data to the state for publication.
Show-Me Institute analysts have called for government transparency since the first relief funds rolled in. While some appear to be acting transparently, not all are. Isn’t it time for the rest to catch up and show us the money?