In 1975, New York City was on the edge of bankruptcy – the city was several hundred million dollars in debt with only a fraction of that on hand. Barely evading disaster, the city implemented a centralized accounting system for its 100-plus agencies. Nearly 40 years later and well into the digital age, the citizens of New York City needed a tool that would allow them to feel confident and participatory in their government’s spending. In 2010, the city launched the beta version of a digital platform called Checkbook NYC, where all city expenditures were exposed and automatically updated daily.
While feedback for Checkbook NYC was overwhelmingly positive, the city was looking to build on its initial success and expand beyond large data sets displayed in a tabular format. Simply stated, the city needed a solution that would make its vast amount of financial information easier for taxpayers to understand. The competitive Big Apple spirit led to another ambitious challenge: making New York the most fiscally transparent city in the United States.
The New York City Comptroller’s Office selected REI Systems to develop the next version of Checkbook NYC due to the company’s strong track record of developing government transparency websites. REI’s new Checkbook NYC turns datasets from multiple systems into customizable data visualizations that allow citizens to stay informed and involved in the city’s spending. The web application’s intuitive dashboard combines graphs and user-friendly tables to make New York City’s spending, contracts, and payroll easy to understand. Users can then download the data and open source code from the application to build their own websites, perform their own analysis, and contribute back to Checkbook NYC.
REI’s Agile delivery provides the NYC Comptroller with frequent product updates, allowing him to be actively involved in the development of the app. Data is processed quickly and allows the ever-changing data to be updated constantly and provides the application 24×7 availability.
In 2013, a national study conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group ranked New York City #1 out of 30 cities, thanks to the Checkbook NYC transparency website. That same year, Checkbook NYC was named “Best External Application” by Government Technology Magazine at the 2013 Best of New York City Awards. In 2015, NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said, “Checkbook NYC is a trailblazing and award-winning online tool which makes important data easy to access and use for all New Yorkers.” Checkbook NYC was also selected as a finalist (#3) in the Excellence in Analytics and Big Data category for the 2015 Excellence.gov Awards Gala.
In 2020, the tool is continuing to be adopted by the city’s authorities with the addition of NYCHA using Checkbook NYC to continue the city’s goal of an open government that is accountable, approachable, and accessible to everyone.