Louisiana accountability director demonstrates spending database

Michael Tortorich
Steven Procopio, director of accountability and research at the Louisiana Division of Administration, demonstrates the LaTrac Web site during the Ascension GOP Roundtable meeting Thursday at the Holiday Inn in Gonzales. The site includes a database of state expenses.

Tracking spending in Louisiana is just a few mouse clicks away.

Steven Procopio, director of accountability and research at the Louisiana Division of Administration, demonstrated the state’s LaTrac Web site Thursday during the Ascension GOP Roundtable meeting at the Holiday Inn in Gonzales. The site is part of an effort to create more transparency and accountablity in state government.

LaTrac has been online since Nov. 12 and is still a “work in progress,” Procopio said. Gov. Bobby Jindal mandated the online database by executive order and statute, and the Legislature appropriated $1 million for it.

Louisiana is one of eight states that provide online expenditures, Procopio said. Oklahoma and Louisiana are the only states that include higher education figures. Louisiana is the only state to link expenditures to performance measures, he said.

The goal is to eventually include every campus of higher education in the state in the database.

Only financial data on the LSU system is available currently. Users can find figures on salaries, travel expenses, scholarships and utilities for each campus. For example, the site shows LSU spent nearly $630,000 on various consultants. While some categories show such details of expenditures, others only show summaries.

A searchable database of state grants is in the works, and is set for completion in March. A database of vendors is planned for May, and a summary of all state contracts is expected by August.

LaTrac can be a useful tool for Louisiana citizens, as they can “take government into their own hands and see where their money is being spent,” Procopio said.

“It’s our responsibility to show you what we are doing with the money,” he said.

The database can function as a useful tool for exposing waste. Procopio said the Inspector General uses the site as an overview in investigations.

“There’s no magic button to show the waste. You have to do a little leg work, but the information is there to find potential waste,” he said.

Discrepancies found are “not conclusive” since there may be an explanation, Procopio warned.

The Inspector General would have to look into suspicious findings. While most of the time there is a good reason, there are instances where waste has been found, he said.

The site will eventually include figures from the last five fiscal years, but new features will be the focus of efforts first. A downloadable database is in the works so individual analysis can be done in programs like Excel, Procopio said.

The information in the database is updated on a monthly basis. While it is possible to update the database daily, Procopio said it would use more resources. Updating monthly gave the state “the biggest bang for its buck,” he said.

In order for LaTrac to be effective, the people of Louisiana must be aware that they have such a tool available and use it, he said.

“We can put up all the information we want, but if you don’t use it, it’s a wasted effort,” Procopio said.

Awareness of the site has grown during the first few months since it was launched, and the response has been positive, he said.

“We were pretty pleased with how people used it,” Procopio said. “We’ve gotten some good feedback from other states.”

LaTrac can be accessed through the Division of Administration’s Web site at doa.louisiana.gov and clicking on the LaTrac link, or through Louisiana government’s main site at la.gov.