NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Grading the Nation: How Accountable Is Your State?

March 22, 2012

The State Integrity Investigation, a data-driven assessment of all 50 states, assesses states' progress in the areas of transparency, accountability and anticorruption mechanisms.  Its results reflect poor progress across the board, as no state performed exceptionally well, says Caitlin Ginley of the Center for Public Integrity.

  • States were given comprehensive scores between 0 and 100, with standard letter grades of A, B, C, D and F assigned to states within standard brackets.
  • No state received an aggregate A rating.
  • Only five states earned a B grade: New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, California and Nebraska.
  • Nineteen states received a C and 18 were given a D.
  • Eight states earned failing grades of 59 or below from the project: Michigan, North Dakota, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia.

Previous studies on this topic have yielded substantially different results, largely because they rely on entirely different metrics as proxies for transparency/corruption.  Critics are quick to point out, however, that one of the most popular measures in these other studies, public corruption convictions, can be misleading.  After all, a large number of convictions can mean that anticorruption mechanisms are working all too well.

The State Integrity Investigation, on the other hand, is more comprehensive in its approach.  A collaboration of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International, the study measures the risks of corruption as reflected in the strength or weakness of laws, policies and procedures designed to assure transparency and accountability in state government.

  • The State Integrity Index researched 330 "Integrity Indicators" across 14 categories of state government.
  • Those categories included public access to information, political financing, executive accountability, legislative accountability, judicial accountability, state budget processes, civil service management, procurement, internal auditing, lobbying disclosure, pension fund management, ethics enforcement, insurance commissions and redistricting.
  • The investigation also differentiated between laws that are merely on the books and laws that are effectively enforced.
  • The differential between technical laws and practiced laws created a substantial "enforcement gap" in several states that greatly contributed to low scores.

Source: Caitlin Ginley, "Grading the Nation: How Accountable Is Your State?" Center for Public Integrity, March 19, 2012.

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