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How to Use SeeTheSpending.org

The volume of records at your command through SeeTheSpending.org is so vast that we equip you with several search tools that can be used in combination to more precisely specify the records you want retrieved. However, the power to be specific carries with it the danger of missing records needed for the complete picture.

Which Type of Search Should I Use?

Advantages of the Category Search

Do a Category Search and survey the list of vendors within that category to discover variant names given to the same vendor. (E.g., "CCSSO Nat'l Conf" is the same vendor as Council of Chief State School [Officers] The field in the state accounting system is not wide enough to hold the full name).

You may wonder where "Food for Business Meetings" is served? Do such purchases refer to staff lunches at the office catered by a restaurant with a delivery service? Searching the "Food for Business Meetings" category finds some vendors which do not cater off-site events, but rather host events in hotel ballrooms. A quick survey of vendors informs you that this category includes banquets and refreshments served during conferences held at hotels, food prepared by restaurants, and dishes delivered by caterers who have no customer seating at their kitchens.

Advantages of Searching by Agency

This is the natural place to start to put together the full picture of how much a particular agency spent and how responsibly the agency officials handle the funds placed under their control.

You can focus on one agency while viewing all payments the agency made to all vendors, within a spending category or in all categories. This tool excludes empty spending categories and vendors with whom the particular agency did not do any business.

Tip: Explore every Spending Category possibly related to the more obvious category in order to find the whole cost of the activity you are investigating. For example, total spending on conferences requires collecting payments from the following categories:

  • Employee Training
  • Travel Related Registration
  • Subsistence Lodging
  • Exh[ibits] Displays & Conf[erence] R[oo]m Rentals
  • Food for Business Meetings
  • In-State Travel
  • Out of State Travel
  • Travel by Public Carrier [airfare]

A speaker's or trainer's fees for conducting a conference or in-service session organized by the agency are usually classified under:

  • "Persnl Ser Contract -Other Fees,"
  • "Persnl Ser Cont - Otr Fees (PSCRB)" or
  • "Others [sic] Fees and Services."

Speakers' and trainers' travel expenses (e.g., mileage, airfare, lodging and meals) are generally reimbursed or paid under:

  • Pers. Ser. Contr -Travel Accounted

Do you wish to know how much was spent by a particular agency? Or do you wish to find out how much was spent by all agencies?

The amount spent by all agencies (leaving out colleges and universities) on employee training during the 12 months of the most recent fiscal year can be found this way:

Within SeeTheSpending.org, you can use the Vendor Search. Select 2010 as the fiscal year. In the Agency drop-down box, select All Agencies. Leave the Vendor box open without naming any vendor. From the "For" drop-down box of spending categories, select Employee Training from the alphabetical list. Hit the Search button.

Then hit the line of text, "Show Spending for all Vendors below." The next screen will name each agency, who was paid, and state the month and amount of payment. The bottom of this results screen (and every results screen for this search) displays the Grand Total spent by all agencies on this category during this period of time.

Where the Vendor name is abbreviated to an acronym, you can find out the vendor's city and state by clicking on the + button in the date column. Then use location and acronym together to search the Internet for the organization's full name

Next, do the same steps, but this time choose "Travel Related Registration" for the spending category. Costs of employee training are often categorized under "Travel Related Registration." I will go farther by saying most Travel Related Registrations are to attend conferences justified as employee training.

The amount spent by a particular agency is best found using the Category Search. Select FY 2010 as the date range. In the Category box, select Employee Training. In the Agency drop-down box, select the one you want. Leave the Vendor box open to "All vendors." Hit the View Results button. This time, the bottom of each Results Screen shows the Grand Total for the chosen agency.

The full amount spent for the purpose of employee training cannot easily and exactly be determined. A speaker's or trainer's fees are usually classified under "Persnl Ser Cont (Other Fees)," "Persnl Ser Contract -Other Fees," "Persnl Ser Cont - Otr Fees (PSCRB)" and even "Others Fees and Services," depending on the agency's book-keeper; and some speakers' and training consultants' travel, lodging and meals are paid for under Pers. Ser. Contr -Travel Accounted. Expenses reimbursed to agency employees to travel to conferences billed as employee training are categorized under In-State Travel, Out of State Travel, Subsistence Lodging, and Travel by Public Carrier (airfare).

Advantages of Fund Search

For a quick introduction to the variety of functions a larger agency engages in, use the Fund Search. It may also reveal some insider terminology.

If you are unsure which agency has responsibility for the program or facility you want to investigate, select a likely agency, then open the drop-down menu of Funds to see names of funds the Legislature placed under the agency's control. Follow the trial-and-error method with each possible agency until you identify the one responsible.

Sometimes, the Fund from which money was drawn to issue a grant or pay for a contract tells more about the nature of the expenditure than the Spending Category does.

Advantages of the Vendor Search

When you want to view all payments to one vendor regardless of what spending category the purchase was classified under, do a Vendor Search. This is sometimes necessary to overcome mis-classification of purchases under a wrong spending category. (E.g., Dept. of Transportation frequently classifies purchases from Revell Hardware Co. in Pearl under "Food for Persons.") [to the tune of $71,600 in the last seven years]

When you don't know the Category under which spending might be categorized, but you know the name of a Vendor from whom similar purchases were made, do a Vendor Search. Enter the name of the known vendor in the Vendor search box. (You may fill the Date box or leave it open to All Dates, and may fill the Agency box or leave it open to All Agencies.) Leave the Category box open to All Categories, and click Search. Click on the matching vendor name and note how the payments made to that vendor were categorized. Then, use that spending category(ies) to perform a new search that gathers all payments to all vendors classified under that category.

Search by Agency,Search by Category, andSearch by Fund enhance your likelihood of finding the kind of records you seek by eliminating empty combinations and presenting you with the options that actually contain payments.

Search by Agency

In Search by Agency, you build a search query in four steps, starting at the top:

  • Fiscal Year (Select one year or all dates)

  • Agency (Requires you to select one)
  • After selecting a date range, the drop-down menu of Agencies will consist of all agencies in existence during the year you selected. The menu excludes any agency that had not yet been created, was abolished, or has been consolidated with another agency. After filling each search box, wait a few seconds while the screen re-sets to register the latest criteria you specified.

  • Category (Requires you to select one)

  • After you select an agency, the next drop-down menu of Spending Categories will confine itself to categories actually used by the chosen agency during the selected time-frame. Studying this menu thoroughly is one of the most helpful orientations you can give yourself.

  • Vendor (Select all or one at a time)

  • After you select a Spending Category, the last search box offers a drop-down menu of Vendors (including grant recipients) actually paid by that agency during that range of dates.

You may select a single vendor out of the list, or you may let the default setting of "All Vendors" remain in the Vendor search box and immediately click on "View Results" to see purchases from all vendors who provided goods or services related* to the Spending Category you chose.

Search by Category

In Search by Category, you can build a search query using four criteria, starting at the top:

  • Fiscal Year (Select one year or all dates)

  • Category (Requires you to select one)

  • Agency (Requires you to select one)

  • Vendor (Select all or one at a time)

Fill each search box in the same manner as when using Search by Agency.

Search by Fund

Once you select a date range and an agency, you can open a drop-down menu showing all Funds placed in that agency's trust. Continue filling each search box in the same manner as when using Search by Agency.

Search by Vendor

This tool is laid out like a bank check. You do not need to know the name of a particular vendor in order to find the Vendor Search tool highly useful. Nor is it necessary to fill all the search boxes with a selection in order to use the Vendor Search.

How to use the Vendor Search without entering a vendor name.

Drop-down menus offer the options from which you may fill three of the four search boxes.

  • Select a fiscal year (or "All Dates") to fill the Date search box.

  • Select an agency (or "All Agencies") to fill the Agency search box.

  • Select a spending category (or "All Spending Categories") to fill the For search box.
  • The drop-down menu under the For box lists all Spending Categories used by any agency, whether or not the selected agency ever classifies purchases under that category.

  • Leave the Payee box open without naming any vendor.

  • Hit the "Search" button to see an alphabetical list of all vendors who received payment from the chosen agency (if you chose one) during the selected year under the chosen spending category (if you chose one). These vendor name(s) are displayed in blue below the check image.

  • Next, you can click on any vendor name to see payments to that vendor alone. Or you may command the site to "Show Spending for All Vendors Below."

When you know a vendor's name or partial name.

When you are certain of the name of a vendor whom you believe has received business from at least one state agency, it may make sense to leave the agency box open to All Agencies, open the Date box to All Dates, leave the Spending Category box open to all categories, and enter the vendor name in the Payee box as your only search term. From broad search results, you will learn how many agencies have traded with that vendor, as well as any variation in the spending categories under which such purchases have been classified.

Perhaps you have a hunch about at least one word of a vendor's name; you can enter a partial name or word fragment in the Payee search box. Next, check or uncheck the check box according to whether you think the vendor name begins with the letters you entered into the Payee box.

You may fill one, two, or all three of the remaining search boxes. (The more narrowly you confine your search, the more time you save yourself by having fewer potential matches to sort through.)

Next, click on the Search button. If any vendor name as it appears in an agency's records matches the name (or partial name) you entered in the Payee box, it will be listed in blue hypertext below the bank check image. From the list of matching vendors, click on a vendor name that is most similar to the name you are looking for. Payments to that vendor will be gathered into a results grid. Click on the + box (in the Date column) to see the city and state of the vendor's location. It may be the location of the vendor's headquarters, a payment processing center, or a branch office.

The first try may not lead to a vendor you are looking for. If not, return to the vendor list and see if another name might be the one you seek. Or go back to the search page, type in variations of the name, and see what results the search engine finds. You may enter as many versions of a vendor name as you can conceive; you may try as many times as you like.

When a Vendor Search query retrieves no records, STS.org responds with the message: "No Vendors Matched Your Search Criteria." Try expanding the search criteria: If you selected a single fiscal year, you might select "All Dates" instead. You may have selected a Spending Category that could fit the type of spending you have in mind, but the chosen agency may classify such expenditures under a more precise or more vague spending category.

After a "No Vendors Matched" message appears, that message remains on the screen while you refine your search criteria. If you stay at the "No Match" screen to select new parameters for another search, the new criteria you select will register on that screen, but the search screen will continue to display the "No Match" message because the search engine does not perform a new search until you hit the Search button again. Do not give up before clicking the Search button again. Go ahdead and click the search button to find out if any vendors match the new criteria you are selecting.

Alternatively, as soon as you receive a "No Vendors Match" message, use your browser's Back button to return to a screen prior to the "No Vendors Match" message, or hit the Reset All button.

Tips and Cautions:

Allow for variant spellings. When you type vendor names into the Vendor Search box, even though you enter a correct name, be aware that your search may not retrieve all purchases from that vendor. This happens when the agency accountants create a second vendor number and a name-variation for a single vendor. For example, where the name contains a plural word (Whispering Woods Hotel & Conference Center), a second account might be created for the vendor by leaving the 's' off of the plural word (Whispering Wood).

Mid-South may appear three ways: with a hyphen between Mid-South, with a space between Mid South, or with nothing between Midsouth. Try all variations you can imagine, or enter only the first three letters, click the check-box that narrows the search to names beginning with the sequence of letters you typed, and let STS.org find all payees (both businesses and employees) whose names begin with "Mid."

Mississippi is usually abbreviated, MS.

An organization may be listed by its full name or by an acronym, or under both (in which case you will miss the total actually paid to the organization unless you search under both names).

Advanced Features

Records retrieved by a search are displayed in a Results Grid. The grid offers remarkable tools for further sorting and re-organizing the records.

Expand the records shown per screen

The total number of records found by your search appears at the bottom of the grid as a number of "pages." You can increase the number of records shown per page by clicking on the default number (20). When your search retrieves a huge number of records, speed up the ability to page through to the middle of an alphabetical list by setting each page to show 100 records per page, then click on the highest page number shown in squares in the bottom right corner of the grid.

Rank records chronologically, alphabetically by Payee or by Agency, or from smallest payment to largest payment.

Click on the mirrored arrowhead button in the date Paid column to rank the records in chronological order or reverse chronological order.

The mirrored arrowhead button in the Amount column allows you to rank records from highest amount paid to the smallest.

Clicking on the mirrored arrowheads in the Payee column ranks the Payees in alphabetical order from A to Z, or from Z to A. You can do the same in the Agency, Fund, or Spending Category columns.

Sort and Group to Calculate Subtotals

To subtotal the payments to each Payee and group Payees alphabetically, hover your cursor over the Payee column heading; the cursor becomes a hand with its pointer finger extended. Left-click your mouse; an omni-directional cursor appears; drag the column heading up to the gray space immediately above which contains this Instruction: "Drag a column header here to group by that column."

Similar grouping can be done by elevating any of the column headers.

Stacking, or Sub-grouping within a Group:

You can group all the results by Spending Category, then sub-group within each Category by Payee, by Amount, or by any other header you choose. Use the "Sort and Group" instructions above to elevate the Spending Category header, then elevate the Payee header.

Expand or contract the width of columns.

To read the full text in a cell of the grid, move your cursor to the row of column headers near the top of the grid, hover the cursor over the dividing line between two columns until the cursor turns into a bi-directional arrow, then drag the dividing line to the left or right.

The same method works to shift column widths in the detail window that opens after clicking on the + box in the date Paid column.

Copyright 2015 Mississippi Center for Public Policy 520 George Street Jackson, MS 39202 www.mspolicy.org