Wichita spending data presented as a summary, and as a list.
As part of an ongoing transparency project, I asked the City of Wichita for check register data. I’ve made the data available in a visualization using Tableau Public. Click here to access the visualization. To access a simple list in csv format, click here.
For more visualizations, click here.
Analyzing this data requires a bit of local knowledge. For example, there is a vendor named “Visit Wichita” that started to receive monthly payments in March 2015. What about payments for January and February? Those were made to a vendor named “Go Wichita,” which changed its name to “Visit Wichita.”
Similarly, there are payments made to both “Westar Energy” and “Westar Energy — EDI.” These are the same entities, just as “Visit Wichita” and “Go Wichita” are the same entity. To the city’s credit, the matching pairs have the same vendor number, which is good. But resolving this requires a different level of analysis.
Also, the purpose of payments may not be evident from the payee’s name. For example, “State Street” is the payee that has received the most money over the time period covered by this data. It is a custodial bank for the city’s retirement systems. 1
Of note, there are many checks issued in amounts $20 or less. Bank of America has estimated that the total cost of sending a business check ranges from $4 to $20. 2
It is by now routine for governmental agencies to post spending data like this, but not at the City of Wichita. Upon inquiry, city officials told me that the present financial management system “does not include many modern system features such as an ‘open checkbook.’” An “open checkbook” refers to a modern web interface where citizens can query for specific data and perhaps perform other analysis. An example is Denver’s open checkbook.
We’ve been promised a modern system for many years.
While the next-generation Wichita financial system will probably have such a feature, there’s no reason why citizens can’t experience some of the benefits now. The spreadsheet of spending data could easily be posted on the city’s website on a monthly basis. People like myself will take that data and make it more useful. The city has demonstrated that it is able to post documents to its website, so there is no reason why this should not be happening.
Example from the visualization. Click for larger.
- City of Wichita. Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Finance/PensionDocuments/2015%20Pension%20CAFR.pdf. ↩
- Wall Street Journal. U.S. Companies Cling to Writing Paper Checks. Available at https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-companies-cling-to-writing-paper-checks-1394494772. ↩