Online database informs public

Those interested in seeing how the state government is spending their tax dollars, now need do nothing more than look on their computer. Louisiana launched an online database Wednesday that provides information on state spending from consulting contracts to agency chief salaries.

The database, called LaTrac, shows spending to date this year in state government and all spending last year by department and program - like money spent since July 1 on the state-run Recovery School District in New Orleans, the Sabine River Authority or individual state prisons.

Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis, the governor’s chief financial officer, called the database a cornerstone to providing government openness to taxpayers.

“Transparency leads to accountability, and accountability leads to better performance,” Davis said at an LSU computer lab where she unveiled the new database and provided a demonstration to a group of students.

Information on spending will be updated monthly. The database is reachable at www.doa.louisiana.gov.

However, the online sight has it’s limitations. It’s not searchable, and it doesn’t provide the line-item detail that some people might seek.

For example, while it includes the salaries of Cabinet secretaries and other agency leaders, it doesn’t provide salary information for midlevel government employees. While it shows how much money has been spent on the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled, it doesn’t break down Medicaid payments to individual hospitals or payments for a specific item like flu shots.

Davis said all of that is on the horizon - tied to computer improvements that will be complete in three years.

The state is upgrading its computer software systems so state departments will use one computer system to do budget, accounting, state purchasing, inventory, contracting and facility management work. Right now, that data is spread across more than a dozen computer systems.

LaTrac will be tied into the new financial software system, Davis said, so citizens will be able to sort and search the data and get more detailed purchasing and spending information. The spending also will be documented in real time, she said.

The creation of the database was pushed for hard by Governor Bobby Jindal, and lawmakers put the requirement in law earlier this year. Seven other states have similar databases, though Louisiana is one of only two states to include public college spending in its online database.

LSU is the first state university system to include its spending in LaTrac, but Davis said the other university systems - and remaining state agencies not yet included in the database - will be added to LaTrac by January.

One million dollars was set aside by state lawmakers to create the database. Davis said $250,000 has been spent so far.

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