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Dormant Alaska government spending database to be revived

February 4, 2021 GMT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The state of Alaska plans to resurrect an online tool for tracking government spending that was shut down last year.

The Checkbook Online system is scheduled to be available to the public again by Friday, Alaska Public Media reported Tuesday.

A fiscal note drafted by Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration estimated establishing the new system would cost about $400,000.

The administration said the previous system lacked internal controls, assurance measures and auditing when it went dark nearly a year ago, leaving the public largely unaware of state spending details as Alaska faced a huge budget shortfall.

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The shutdown left Alaska residents without information about how executive branch agencies and the Legislature spent money on contracts and services.

Citizen watchdogs, legislators and journalists regularly checked the postings, using them to highlight payments to recipients with political connections.

The Department of Administration said in a statement that the database it maintains is undergoing a final phase of testing.

“I believe government is ‘Of the People, By the People, For the People.’ It’s supposed to represent, serve, and be accountable to the people,” department Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka said in the statement. “For that reason, we are committed to restoring an accurate and transparent Checkbook Online for Alaskans.”

A bill proposing a requirement for the government to operate the spending database received a first hearing Tuesday in a state Senate committee.

The bill sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Bill Wielechowski would also add new system features including spending details from the Alaska university system and state corporations such as the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

Republican state Sen. Lora Reinbold said she previously used the checkbook system to identify budget reductions she proposed.

“If you talk about saving money, I can tell you, I generated dozens and dozens of cuts based on what I saw in this online checkbook,” Reinbold said.