Frequently Asked Questions

What is Transparent California?

Transparent California provides comprehensive and easily searchable information on the compensation of public employees and retirees in California.

Complete and accurate information is necessary to increase public understanding of government and help decision makers, including elected officials and voters, make informed decisions.

Who provides Transparent California?

Transparent California is provided by Nevada Policy as a public service.

Nevada Policy is a non-partisan think tank that focuses on, among other things, empowering citizens and elected officials with information they need to make informed public policy decisions.

Transparent California relies on the generous support of individuals. If you would like to help support this site and ensure it is continually updated, please consider making a donation today!

If you would like to directly support data collection for an agency you have an interest in, you can help by sponsoring data collection for that agency, which puts their data collection into our highest priority.

Why does a Nevada-based research organization care about California?

NPRI has a strong interest in government transparency everywhere. It's likely most of the media organizations you use for information on a daily basis do not have headquarters in your area or even your state. The location of the office has nothing to do with the information being gathered and provided.

Where does the information on Transparent California come from?

The information on Transparent California comes directly from government agencies and is obtained through public records requests, per the California Public Records Act, California Government Code §§ 7920 through 7931.

When will the data be updated?

Transparent California staff makes over 2,500 public records request each year in order to obtain, format and upload the most current data. The California Public Records Act limits us to asking for only existing data, we cannot ask an agency to create new data or new reporting for us. Accordingly, we tie our request timing to a reporting schedule established by the State Controller's Office (SCO) Government Compensation in California deadline for reporting data. We know after this deadline they will have existing data responsive to our request.

For most agencies that deadline is April 30th of the year following. For K-12 school districts that deadline is June 30th. For more on these requirements, click here.

Pension systems are not a part of that system, however their data collection schedule usually coincides with our municipality collection schedule, starting in April of the following year.

Once the appropriate deadline has passed, our collection effort begins. Making thousands of public records requests, following up when necessary, receiving and processing the data files can then take most of a year for the Transparent California team.

If you would like to help support this effort, you can sponsor data collection for any agencies you have a specific interest in directly. Sponsored agencies take on the highest priority in our data collection efforts, meaning their data may be collected and posted significantly faster than they would be without sponsorship. Sponsors are credited for their support on the agencies page, but sponsorship can be done anonymously as well if preferred.

To be notified when new data is uploaded for a specific agency, navigate to that agency's page and click on the "Subscribe to this agency" link located directly above the search box.

You can also sign up to our mailing list, or follow our blog and Twitter accounts, or follow our Facebook page to keep up-to-date on the latest from Transparent California.

Transparent California relies on the generous support of donors to help keep the site online and constantly updated. If you value the site and would like to see it continue, please consider making a tax-deductible donation today!

Occasionally we have an agency who either refuses to provide information or does not respond to our requests. If that has happened in any year from 2020 onward, you will see a note in their page for that year indicating this. You are welcome to contact that agency and ask them why they are hiding their compensation information from the public, and encourage them to respond to our requests.

In rare cases we find it necessary to file lawsuits to obtain data. We would rather not do that, our objective is simply to obtain data that is clearly defined by state law as subject to disclosure, however some agencies do not want to comply with their legal obligations and require legal action. For a compendium of such efforts with links to associated posts and news stories, click here!.

As we all know, lawsuits are expensive, and if you would like to support such efforts please consider donating so we can do that when needed.

Why is it important for the public to be able to see government employee salaries, pensions and names?

The public has a right to see this information, because government officials work for the public. As the California Public Records Act states, the Legislature “finds and declares that access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.”

Transparency is necessary to prevent fraud, waste and abuse. Just as important, transparency is needed to provide citizens and policymakers the facts they need to make informed decisions about the numerous public policy issues involving government employee and retiree compensation.

Are names and salaries permitted to be published?

Yes. The California Public Records Act requires the publication of public employee names and salary information. More information on the Act can be found here.

Is it possible to remove a name from Transparent California?

All information on Transparent California comes directly from public records request and is public information.

It is the responsibility of payroll agencies to remove names on behalf of employees, such as undercover officers, whose need for privacy fulfills the exceptions set forth in California's public records act. Transparent California cooperates with payroll agencies in the event of mistaken inclusions, and only removes names based on receiving communications from payroll departments.

Why do the Transparent California records for some names appear in Google search results, but not others?

Transparent California doesn’t control how search engines search and display results.

Employees with unusual names are more likely to come up at the top of an internet search. Employees with common names show up in search results, but their Transparent California record may not appear with a high search ranking.

What is included in the pay and benefit categories on Transparent California?

Transparent California uses uniform pay categories to mirror the categories used by the reporting agencies as much as possible, particularly the categories required by the .State Controller’s Office standard template for reporting to them.

For instance, the "Regular Pay" column is the amount reported under "Base pay," "Total regular pay," or any other nomenclature indicating it is based on the normal pay rate of the employee. The “Overtime pay” column reflects the values reported as "Overtime pay" by the respective agency.

While some agencies report many additional forms of pay separately, the vast majority only provide two additional forms of pay categories: "Other pay" and "Lump sum pay." Transparent California's "Other pay" category is the sum of these two categories. "Lump sum pay" is usually one-time payments such as payouts for unused vacation and sick leave. "Other Pay" includes all forms of pay not reported in the previous categories and may include, among other things, bonuses, stipends, longevity pay, incentive pay, car allowances, etc.

Transparent California has no detail on what components of pay are included in “Other Pay” for a given agency. If you have such questions, we recommend you make a public records act request to the agency directly.

"Total benefits" consists of the employer-paid cost of health, dental and vision medical insurance and retirement contributions only. No benefit costs paid by the employee themselves are included. The cost of benefits do not reflect monetary payments received by the employee but, instead, reflect the cost incurred by taxpayers associated with employer-provided health and retirement benefits.

The total cost of the employee will be higher than the values reported here as there are associated statutory (i.e. legally required) costs, such as workman's compensation, state unemployment insurance, Medicare and Social Security, that we do not report as employee compensation.

For pensions, all values reflect the actual monetary value of benefits received during the respective year reported.

Transparent California cannot verify the accuracy of the data we are given. Since this data is collected using legal public records requests we assume the agencies are responding with accurate data. If you feel your data is being reported inaccurately, see the FAQ below on this.

What are pension debt payments?

The cost associated with employer-provided retirement benefits is comprised of two components: the normal cost and the unfunded actuarial liability (debt) payment, often called the UAL.

The normal cost is the amount the pension fund determines is necessary to pre-fund that employee's future benefit. But because this cost is calculated based on a series of projections about future events, they oftentimes end up being insufficient to fully fund the employee's promised benefit.

When this happens, an unfunded liability (debt) is created. In order to pay this debt down, the annual retirement costs are increased accordingly.

Beginning in 2017, agencies belonging to the state pension fund (CalPERS) are only required to report the normal cost portion — which gives the erroneous impression that their annual costs have significantly declined.

To ensure the full annual cost of employee compensation is reported, and to maintain parity with the reporting methods used by non-CalPERS agencies as well as all CalPERS agencies prior to 2017, Transparent California prorates these agencies’ pension debt payments across all employees, determined by that employee's percentage share of all retirement contributions by that agency for the year. This prorated value is reported under the "pension debt" column.

The pension debt column does not appear for any agency prior to 2017, as that cost was already included by the reporting employer as part of their retirement costs.

Similarly, it does not appear for the agencies that continue to report their full retirement costs to Transparent California.

More on Unfunded Actuarial Liabilities can be found here.

The downloadable files for some agencies indicate whether an employee was full time or part time for that year, how is this calculated?

We are not given actual full time/part time indicators by agencies, however most municipalities (cities, counties, state agencies, etc) give us salary ranges for each position. If the employee made less in base pay than the minimum for that position, the system assumes they did not work full time that year and marks them as part time ("PT") in the downloaded data files.

This is only an indicator, and can be incorrect in some situations. For example, an employee who receives minimal base pay but substantail compensation in the form of overtime or "other" pay may be shown as part time even though they were full time.

Also, if an agency provides us with incorrect pay ranges or no pay range at all that may result in inaccurate information here.

Why doesn’t the compensation amount on Transparent California match the amount I receive in my paycheck?

Transparent California lists an employee’s total compensation, including benefits like health insurance and pension payments, and an employee’s salary before any deductions for Social Security, Medicare, retirement, etc… are taken.

Moreover, the cost of benefits do not reflect monetary payments received by the employee but, instead, reflect the cost incurred by taxpayers associated with employer-provided health and retirement benefits.

In addition, we rely upon each agency to give us accurate and complete information.

Are the values reported monthly or annual amounts?

All values are annual amounts for the respective year reported. Some agencies choose to report their data based on fiscal year (usually July through end of June the following year), some choose to report calendar year (January - December) but the values are always annual.

What if I feel the data on the site for me is wrong?

As described above, all the data we post on the site is "as obtained" using legal public records act requests. If you feel the data is incorrect, we recommend you go directly to the agency and request they investigate.

If an agency contacts us and indicates they feel data they provided correctly was incorrectly posted on our site, we would be happy to work with them on getting this corrected.

If you would like us to take that up with an agency, you are welcome to send us a copy of your W-2 for the period in question, redacted of any personally identifiable information (all we need is your name and pay values) and we will contact the agency directly with that question. If you are not willing to provide that proof, we are unable to pursue that for you.

Why doesn’t Transparent California contain information on all government agencies, employees and retirees?

Transparent California's efforts are powered by a small group of part time staff, attempting to obtain data on almost 5000 public agencies annually. We prioritize the largest agencies, and unfortunately often do not have the resources to request data from all possible agencies. Smaller agencies in particular may be missing from the data for some years, but rest assured our goal is to obtain every bit of data from every agency possible.

If you would like to help support this effort, you can sponsor data collection for any agencies you have a specific interest in directly. Sponsored agencies take on the highest priority in our data collection efforts, meaning their data may be collected and posted significantly faster than they would be without sponsorship. Sponsors are credited for their support on the agencies page, but sponsorship can be done anonymously as well if preferred.

If an agency you are interested in is missing from our records, keep in mind you are able to make the same request that we do by sending them a public records request asking for their compensation information.

In addition, while most government agencies and officials have complied with Transparent California’s public records requests, some government officials are breaking the law by refusing to provide the requested public records.

You can help Transparent California obtain the records by respectfully requesting that a government agency fulfill Transparent California’s public records request.

At this time, Transparent California does not request, collect or post compensation information regarding federal agencies and their employees.

How do I contact someone I found on Transparent California?

Transparent California does not maintain the contact information — email addresses, phone numbers, etc… — of those listed on the site. We have no way of getting in contact with anyone listed on Transparent California.

How can I contact Transparent California?

You can email Transparent California here. If you are a member of the media, please email us and put “Media” in the subject line and include your questions, deadline and contact information, and we will respond as soon as possible.