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Transparency Roundup

Google Your Vote

Google’s Voting Information Project is coming to Virginia in time for November third, according to TechPresident.
 

The project, which allows Virginia voters to plug their address into an online widget and get back a map with directions to their polling place. Also, the widget will give voters information on every race in their area and links to all the candidates they can choose between.
 
Whitehouse.gov Switches to Open Source Platform
 
The White House’s website has switched to the open source Drupal platform. The White House web team decided that they needed a more powerful and flexible online platform. According to online expert Tim O’Reilly the move marks a big win for the open source software movement, which has been trying for years to portray itself as just as safe and reliable as closed source competitors.
As John Scott of Open Source for America (a group advocating open source adoption by government, to which I am an advisor) noted in an email to me: “This is great news not only for the use of open source software, but the validation of the open source development model. The White House’s adoption of community-based software provides a great example for the rest of the government to follow.”

John is right. While open source is already widespread throughout the government, its adoption by the White House will almost certainly give permission for much wider uptake.”

Investigating Government Waste, Fraud and Abuse In Texas
 
The sunlight foundation blog has a nice profile on Texas Watchdog, a group that “serves as a government watchdog and training center where reporters, bloggers and activists of any stripe learn how to uncover waste, fraud and corruption in state and local governments.” A combination that “creates a two-tiered approach to holding governments and officials accountable for their actions.”
 
Barely a year old the organization has already had good success in convincing the state’s attorney general to deem public many previously inaccessible records, including: “most of Houston Mayor Bill White’s calendar, employee salary information from the county around Corpus Christi, and most recently, e-mails between Houston’s public transit agency and a well-paid consultant in California who was hired without competitive bids.” They are not likely to stop there, however. As Jennifer Peebles, the organization’s Deputy Editor makes clear: “More could be done. A few years back, legislators wrote laws requiring themselves to file annual ethics forms about their sources of income. But they also required the Ethics Commission to keep a paper record of everyone who asks to see a lawmaker’s ethics form — a subtle, but effective, intimidation tactic. Texas Watchdog countered that by getting the forms for all 181 state legislators and posting them all online on our site. An effort in the legislature to repeal the identification requirement, and to demand the Ethics Commission post the forms online itself, didn’t get very far earlier this year.”
 
The Cost of Transparency
 
Belt-tightening times or not, its always good for a legislature to ask: what does propostion x cost and what is its value? However, let me second Noah Kunin of the sunlight foundation blog when he says: “if introducing data standards and increasing transparency costs government more in the long run – they’re doing it wrong.” In part of a larger series on the transparency efforts of Minnesota, Noah examines the state’s debate over the costs versus the merits of increasing the publics access to information, which pits an engaged citizenry on one hand and a declining budget on the other.
 
Rooting Through the Governments Attic
 
Have you ever wanted to read emails and memos from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy that include the word “hemp”? What about a report on the US Secret Service and the White House taping system during the Nixon Administration or the monthly classification bulletins of the Atomic Energy Commissionfrom 1956 to 1966? Well, you can find this and a whole lot more at the aptly named GovernmentAttic.org, a site that gives you access to hundreds of Federal Government documents – from memos and emails to reports – all obtained under the Freedom of Information Act

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