Swiss Administration Procurements

Swiss Administration Procurements

Organisation: Le Matin Dimanche / SonntagsZeitung (Tamedia) (Switzerland)

Publication Date: 03/30/2017

Size of team/newsroom:large


Each year the Swiss federal administration purchases roughly five billion swiss francs worth of goods and services from private companies. Our project was for the first time able to shed some light on this intransparent market, financed completely by taxpayer money. After more than three years of litigation, we obtained exclusive data through the Freedom of Information Act. The data shows the types of goods and services each government department and office spends its budget on. These never before released documents also reveal who the administration’s biggest suppliers are. Based on our analysis of the data, we published articles detailing numerous instances of taxpayer money being spent inefficiently. Two federal departments for example were outsourcing many IT project which resulted in higher costs. We also uncovered, that some companies had received huge long term mandates, without calls for tenders. A practice that is now illegal. Moreover, some administration executives enjoyed very luxury resorts in the Swiss Alps to hold meetings - at the taxpayers expense. To go along with these articles, we published an interactive visualisation in three languages enabling each citizen to explore the data themselves. The graphic shows the volume of purchases made by the federal government in one year. The colors represent the different departments of the federal Government. The inner circle indicates the division among the departments, while the outer circle with lighter shades details the distribution among the different offices within the departments. A click on the graph zooms in on a department or office. It also provides a visual dashboard showing the most important suppliers and the categories of goods and services purchased. The visualisation is available in english, french and german.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

Gaining access to the data was a huge part of the effort. The Swiss federal administration was extremely reluctant to give information about its suppliers. Relying on the Freedom of Information Act, we had to fight in Switzerland’s highest court. More than three years after our initial request, the latter ordered the administration to hand over the documents. This ruling is now part of the national jurisprudence. It’s an important step to raise awareness, both among the public and the administration, about the Freedom of Information Act which which exists since less that ten years in Switzerland. The format we received the data from the administration was a further challenge. Each department sends us the information in several PDF files. In total we had to deal with 64 files - the vast majority being multipage. We had to find the best way to scrape them without errors. We then had to clean the data and make in uniform through the departments. All of this was necessary to make the data machine-readable and to generate a clean 7000-line CSV for the visualisation. We published everything along with the visualisation: the 64 PDF files, the data we scraped and all the scripts we used, making our work completely transparent, reproducible and verifiable. As a consequence several articles were published by other newspapers based on our data. The visualization was also open-sourced.

Technologies used for this project:

We used the open-source tool Tabula to scrape the pdf files we received from the administration. The cleaning was made with Google Spreadsheet. Then we wrote a Python script to generate one single CSV file containing all the data for the analysis and the interactive visualisation. Journalists in the team found trends and outliers with the help of Tableau software. The interactive visualisation we published is made in javascript, using the D3.js library. It is fully responsive and works on mobile devices. It was made with the help of our partner Datastory. All the code and the data is available on Github under BSD license.
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