Washington placed 3rd in the nation in a recent investigation of “State Integrity,” sponsored by the Center for Public Integrity, in collaboration with Global Integrity, and Public Radio International.  www.stateintegrity.org/

This is great news for Washington, but better news without studying the details.

Grades were based on various factors including: accountability at all three branches of government, public access to information, civil service management, internal auditing, pension fund management, insurance commissions, political financing, budgeting, procurement, lobbying disclosure, ethics enforcement, and redistricting.  But the devil is in the details, and the details of this grading system are questionable.

As an example, whether state records are accessible at a “reasonable cost” is one component of the grading system and crops up in different areas.  Washington agencies may not charge for locating records responsive to a request, nor may they charge for making records available.  Washington may, however, charge for the cost of copying documents.  In Civil Service Management, Washington received a grade of 0% under the category of making records available at a reasonable cost because it is authorized to charge for providing records. www.stateintegrity.org/washington_survey_state_civil_service_management

In the area of public access to records, Washington received a score of 100% for making records available at a reasonable cost, and the survey cited the same statute allowing the state to charge copying costs.  http://www.stateintegrity.org/washington_survey_public_access_to_information  The inconsistent metric calls into question the rankings altogether.  A closer look into the other categories reveals similar weaknesses.

The Senate Majority Leader from #1 ranked New Jersey said, “I’m still in shock. If we’re number one, I feel bad for the rest of the states.”  The Center for Public Integrity credits New Jerseys’ success to recent anti-corruption legislation accompanied by careful enforcement.  But the Senator’s surprise may also be attributable to the grading system.  Corruption is difficult to predict or prevent, and difficult to unearth while it is occurring.  It certainly is difficult to measure.  Although Washington performed well in this ranking, it may be wise for all states to chart a path that does not derive from a formulaic investigation of “integrity” or “corruption.”