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Transparency Roundup

Virginia Localities, Stimulus Site Take Home More Honors
Earlier this month the Center for Digital Government announced the winners of its 2009 Digital Government Achievement Awards, which “showcase progressive and innovative Web sites and digital applications by government entities worldwide,” and Virginia acquitted itself fairly well.
In the Best of the Web category Virginia Beach and Fairfax County took home the Award for City and County Portal Page, respectively, Richmond was recognized twice in the Government to Business Category for their External Alarm Interface Exchange and Payee Match Positive Pay sites and the Commonwealth was awarded for Stimulus.Virginia.Gov: Providing Transparency and Accountability in the Government-to-citizen State government category. As we’ve mentioned before this site is truly easy to follow with interactive graphs which allow citizens to see how much money is going to each locality in the state and project descriptions have detailed information about where the money will go and who will be responsible for the money. A good bit of the credit for that can be attributed to the more than 9,000 ideas that were submitted by citizens, localities and other groups between February 10 and March 6, 2009.

Originally this article stated that “One place where Virginia’s presence was lacking? That would be the State Portal Category, where it was not one of the 11 states singled out.” That is incorrect. According to Emily Seibert of the Virginia Information Technology Agency “ Virginia’s state portal,, was actually not eligible to compete in this year’s Best of the Web state competition, due to its first place standing in 2008, according to the rules of the competition. So the Commonwealth got a ‘bye’ in 2009, and instead was asked to judge the finalists in the state, city and county competitions.”
Virginia’s Efforts to Spread Knowledge and Increase Accountability Recognized
On the 26th of October, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers will be presenting their 2009 Recognition Awards for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Information Technology which aims to recognize “those information technology initiatives which exemplify best practices, support the public policy goals of state leaders, assist government officials to innovatively execute their duties, and provide cost-effective service to citizens.” Of their 10 awards, Virginia is a finalist in four categories, more than any other state.
The two of most significance in the transparency realm came in the Data, Information and Knowledge Management and Digital Government: Government to Citizen (G to C) categories for Virginia Performs: Virginia’s Performance Leadership and Accountability System and Portal Widgets respectively. With Virginia Performs, the Commonwealth has a performance leadership and accountability system that promotes transparency in a big way as it aggregates both national and state data in very understandable text, graph and map formats. This allows anyone one-stop-shopping to see how Virginia performs on a variety of measures at the state, regional and local levels. Just as importantly the information is being used internally and improving how the state government functions. For example, one agency realized more than $3 million in savings by making adjustments in under-performing areas as a result of the data gleamed from this program. Virginia Widgets, developed with the redesign of the state’s portal page in an effort to use newer web technologies and attract a younger audience, is one neat tool that more states and localities should make part of their technology package. From information on state parks and wineries to traffic updates and elections results, the widgets provide real time, portable information delivery to citizens. There is one glaring shortfall, however. While citizens are encouraged to offer their ideas, it doesn’t appear that they can create their own widgets.

The state is also a finalist in the Cross-Boundary Collaboration and Partnerships category, which looks for integration amongst public entities where the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy is being recognized for its University IT Internship Partnership, which, since 2001 has utilized partnerships with area universities to work onsite as software development team members, and the IT Project and Portfolio Management category for its Virginia Technology Portfolio 2.0, a IT investment management process that has enabled the integration IT and business strategic planning.

Technology Being Used to Thwart Government Transparency
We talk an awful lot about the powerful force technology could be in the pursuit of a more open, accessible and transparent government, leave it to politicians to figure out a way to ruin even that. This article from the Miami Herald highlights how new advances in communications could be enabling the bypassing or outright ignoring of public records law. “It’s seems to be the all the rage these days for public officials to use unconventional methods of communication to circumvent public records law and BlackBerry PIN’ing is certainly one of those forms,” said Michael Barfield, a legal consultant to [Citizens for Sunshine]”. Though centered on concerns with the dealings of Florida’s legislators the same questions and worries can almost certainly be raised about the public officials in Virginia.

Government 2.0 Webinar on Openness and Collaboration
Want to learn how government agencies are becoming more transparent and connecting people to the issues and information they care about most? Then on September 29 at 1:00 p.m., you may want to check out a webinar entitled Government 2.0: The Collaborative Opportunities of Open Government, featuring Beth Noveck, US Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government and author of “Wiki Government” and Andrew Rasiej, Co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum. Click this link for more information and to register.

Apps for America Winner Announced
In the last edition of our Transparency Links Roundup we made mention of Sunlight Labsthree finalists, GovPulse, ThisWeKnow and Datamasher in its Apps for America contest. Well, earlier this month they announced their winner, and for those waiting with bated breath it was Datamasher.

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