One of the other duties that legislators have is oversight of our Executive Branch agencies. This is a normal function of government. We elect legislators. Legislators control the purse strings, and they need to make sure that the tax money we entrust to them is being spent wisely and efficiently.
To facilitate this oversight function, we have a number of laws that bear on the budgeting process. One of them, HRS section 37-75, requires agencies to come up a “variance report” that is supposed to list how much they were budgeted, how much was spent, and a narrative explanation for any significant difference. Agencies are also tasked with selecting some metrics that will help the legislators and the public see how they did, and with posting those metrics. These reports are due 30 days before the start of the legislative session. They are collected by the Department of Budget and Finance, and are posted here.
Four years ago, we examined some of the variance reports and concluded that some, not all, of the agencies were basically thumbing their noses at the process. We were hopeful that by bringing these facts to light we could perhaps shame some of those agencies to get back on the straight and narrow path.
Apparently, that didn’t work.
Under the Transportation category, here is part of the variance report for the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport:
“Number of accidents per 100,000 square feet – NO DATA.” They obviously know how large their area is in square feet, so are they telling us they don’t keep track of accidents? That’s hard to believe. “Average number of times airport restrooms are cleaned per day – NO DATA.” Are you kidding me? This, by the way, is not a problem unique to Honolulu. Data for Hilo International Airport, Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole, Kahului Airport, Lihue Airport, and ALL of the other airports report a similar lack of data for the metrics, just as they did four years ago.
These, you may remember, are metrics they picked themselves. As we reported four years ago, Airports’ variance reports in prior years did indeed measure these statistics, up to the 2014-15 variance report. In that year’s report, the Airports Division complained that “many of its measures are no longer relevant and outdated,” and stopped following the law at that time.
In 2019, we also complained about the prison system, which had been reporting “NO DATA” when measuring how many escapes, both first and second degree, had occurred. Fortunately, they seem to have gotten the message and have been posting data since the fiscal year 2020 report. No escapes!
At the same time, new instances of agencies posting “NO DATA” in response to key metrics are popping up. The Office of Environmental Quality Control, for example, posted “NO DATA” in response to all metrics in its 2022 variance report, saying it couldn’t compile data because it was transferred to be under another agency this past year. The University of Hawaii Cancer Center is listing no data, saying that it is a new program established by the Legislature. Really? The Cancer Center has been around since 1971, so there’s something I’m not understanding here.
For our government to operate well and to be fairly evaluated, we need good data and transparency. Let’s keep pressing for good data.