High Tech with a Human Touch
Activity Based Total Accountability
The Activity Based Total Accountability (ABTA) Institute’s purpose is to provide more transparency and accountability in government regarding state spending. A state transparency report card was just published resulting in a letter grade for each of the fifty states based on the degree of transparency and usability of the Web sites evaluated. The ABTA Web site also provides training videos on the ABTA method which supports a common platform for taxpayers and lawmakers to measure costs within and between states.
Every state transparency Web site is different making it impossible for a taxpayer or lawmaker to compare the costs from state to state. Also, within the same state, different departments track different costs making it just as difficult to compare costs within the same state. These sites have an abundance of very little useful and meaningful information.
The simple problem to address is that there is not a common way to measure spending within or between states. Logically, it makes sense to develop common categories that are of interest to lawmakers and taxpayers and hold every state Accountable for tracking these common categories of expenses. This way every state’s departments such as Department of Health, Department of Corrections, etc. would have to track these expenses. This would provide lawmakers and taxpayers better transparency and accountability in government through access to a platform where costs within and between states could be compared so we, in essence, could compare apples to apples. Once we can compare costs, the domino effect is that departments or states can learn from those that do a better job of spending for a particular government activity so that their spending could also improve.
Government shouldn’t be afraid of identifying how much it costs them to operate because knowing this information is the first step in identifying how to decrease costs. It should instead be feared to not have this information just as an Alice in Wonderland quote implies; “If you don’t know where you are going then you will surely never get there.” There will always be excuses why this can’t be achieved, but if government truly wants better transparency of state spending to exist then they will need to make it a priority. We will never be able to manage spending unless we can accurately measure it.
The ABTA Institute approach consists of three focus areas of transparency and accountability in government. First, the ABTA Institute conducted a study of the level of transparency for each of the fifty state websites. The study produced lessons learned in terms of: (1) technical grounds (usability of the web interface by citizens of various age groups, education levels, and backgrounds); and (2) substantive grounds (information transparency -- access, readability, and understandability of state performance data-- by citizens of various age groups, education levels, and backgrounds). Measurable outcomes of the study include a formal checklist for web developers of state government websites for improving web usability and providing transparency of government performance and the report card that ranks the fifty states’ Web sites.
Secondly, the ABTA Institute developed online transparency and accountability in government training modules available to the public on the ABTA Web site. The training provides individuals with a detailed understanding of the ABTA concept. The training also provides a hands-on component whereby cost information and step-by-step directions on how to break down the costs of government activities down to the unit cost is included. For example, the ABTA concept is based on breaking down the cost of a government activity such as feeding an inmate to the cost of one inmate meal. Measurable outcomes include the videos.
The third focus of the ABTA Institute is to conduct a transparency and accountability in government webinar. The transparency and accountability in government webinar is available online to the public on the ABTA Web site. The measurable outcome is the webinar consisting of disseminating information about state transparency and accountability in government.
The ABTA Institute’s previous research effort was to fill an existing information gap, which exists within government agencies. This gap is a lack of a centralized data source containing comparable spending, activity and performance data. The results of this earlier research are also available on the ABTA Web site. The ABTA Institute drives change in management decision-making by employing practical transparency and accountability in government methods for identifying true costs of services delivered by the government to the public, resulting in better transparency and accountability in government. A practical method would be based on a simple, standard measurement system whereby unit costs and other performance indicators are consistently measured. The vision of the ABTA Institute is to continue to provide training and methods to produce comparable financial and performance information and discussions for true transparency and accountability in government to organizational directors, governmental officials, and the general public.