A column by Senator Pat Browne
16th Senatorial District
Tremendous advancements in technology have given the public greater access to state government. When I was first elected to office, you had to come to Harrisburg to see a legislative session. You had to make a request in writing or visit an office to get a document. Now, with technology, the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can have direct access online to the interworking of state government.
As part of that effort to provide transparency in government, I was the prime sponsor of the Pennsylvania Web Accountability and Transparency (PENNWATCH) Act in the Senate, a measure that formed the basis of Act 18 of 2011. The key requirement of that measure involved the creation of a website and searchable database that gives the people of the Commonwealth an unprecedented opportunity to fully monitor the fiscal activities of state government.
I am pleased to report that the site www.pennwatch.pa.gov went online on December 20, 2012.
With PENNWATCH, we took transparency to a whole new level. This is something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Citizens now have unprecedented access to what their state legislators and governor are doing.
We have made accountability and transparency in government a top priority. We have embraced new technologies by streaming legislative sessions live online and creating public-searchable databases of legislation, roll call votes and lobbyist disclosure reports. We have made ourselves more accountable through amendments to the Open Records Law, through the Independent Fiscal Office and through the Governor’s Open PA website. But, without the information and technology available through PENNWATCH, citizens would still not have the information and resources to follow how and where their tax dollars are being spent.
The increasing public demand for access to information – at all levels of government – made PENNWATCH the logical, broad-based follow-up to those government reform measures already in use.
Under the provisions of Act 18, PENNWATCH enables people to see the interactions between Commonwealth agencies and their individual vendors. The ledgers will be opened to allow citizens to monitor spending. Personnel records will be opened to provide basic information about staffing across state departments and agencies.
This information empowers the people of Pennsylvania by holding state government accountable for its expenditures. It is important for them to be engaged in how their tax dollars are being spent. But they can only be engaged with the ability to access that information, which PENNWATCH gives them.
I strongly believe that PENNWATCH will be an excellent tool for Pennsylvania in continuing our efforts to make State government more transparent and accountable. The timeliness of this is important given the revenue capacity of the state. We are making difficult financial choices in Harrisburg. For our citizens, it is vital that they know what those choices are and what priorities we have set for spending.
This is a whole new day of transparency in state government.