NC OpenBook shows where state money goes

Staff WriterApril 6, 2009 

— The state of North Carolina spent billions on roads and salaries last year. It also spent $33,000 for baby chicks, $60,000 for bags of ice and $70,000 on cans of applesauce.

With $21 billion to spend, it had a long shopping list.

Much of it is catalogued on a new Internet site called NC OpenBook (ncopenbook.gov). It's the first installment of an effort that eventually will list all major state contracts and grants and show how the state spends more than $6 billion in federal stimulus money.

By the end of the year, it also will show how state agencies measure up on performance standards.

"NC OpenBook is part of Gov. (Bev) Perdue's efforts to make state government more open, more transparent, more accessible," says spokesman David Kochman. "We think that will help improve citizens' confidence in government - and hopefully save some money by letting businesses know what they have to do to compete for those contracts and grants."

The effort pushes North Carolina into the growing number of states that make public spending more accessible. It's modeled on similar efforts in Maryland and more than a dozen other states, including Alaska's "Checkbook Online," Oklahoma's "OpenBooksOK," and "KanView" in Kansas.

The N.C. site features a searchable database of state contracts and grants of more than $10,000. Because some state agencies still lack compatible databases, Kochman said, some spending has yet to be included.

But what there is offers a glimpse into state buying habits.

There is, for example, the $841,000 contract signed with Charlotte's Town and Country Toyota last fall for an undisclosed number of passenger vehicles. A store manager declined to offer details of the purchase.

The Department of Corrections bought $38,400 worth of eyeglass frames in February. The same department bought the baby chicks and jars of applesauce, in addition to $357,000 worth of apple juice concentrate.

Because local governments and school systems make purchases through the state, there are items such as the $995,000 worth of Domino's pizzas for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

CMS spokeswoman LaTarzja Henry said the system essentially breaks even by selling slices to high school students.

Some listings aren't what they appear.

The site shows a $9 million contract for a new jet for the Department of Commerce. Gov. Mike Easley scrubbed the deal last October - the same week he told state agencies to prepare for a 3 percent budget cut.

The OpenBook site can be searched by commodity, vendor and agency. It also breaks down vendors by county.

A later phase called "State-Stat" will feature quarterly updates on how state departments and agencies conform to performance benchmarks.

The entire OpenBook initiative will cost about $900,000.

"So far, the things we've heard have been very positive," Kochman said. "It's important to get the data out there," he said. "... A lot of people are looking forward to seeing the finished product."

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