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Transparency Roundup

Virginia Counties Show Off Their Technology Muscle
Virginia’s local governments were the big winners in the 2009 Digital Counties Survey, which ranked county websites across the country in categories relating to their size. Virginia was the only state in the country to have counties honored in all four population categories, with Loudoun County coming in number one in the 250,000-499,999 category and Roanoke County winning in the 150,000-249,999 category. Roanoke in particular was cited for its innovative use of an externally hosted customer relationship management and financial systems, which saves the county money on IT infrastructure and improves services for citizens. Other Virginia counties honored were Fairfax, which was tied for fourth in the 500,000 plus category, Gloucester, which was number two in the 150,000 or less category, Albermarle, which was tied for sixth in that category and Franklin, which was tied for ninth. Virginia’s loser in the competition was Prince William, which fell off the list after ranking sixth in the 250,000-499,999 category in 2008.

How to Make Government 2.0 Work
Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, has an outstanding piece in Forbes where he absolutely nails the essence of Government 2.0. He points out that the most successful companies in the computer industry are those that “build frameworks that enable a whole ecosystem of participation from other companies large and small.” He then specifically makes note of the structure Apple built that has allowed anyone who cares to, to build an application for the iPhone and rightly argues that this is the way government should approach technology and all its components, including transparency; arguing that government needs to “become an open platform that allows people inside and outside government to innovate.” And that the system designed must allow for evolutions to occur “through interactions between the technology provider and its user community.” If this system were truly implemented it would result in a “radical departure from the old model of government, which Donald Kettl so aptly named ‘vending machine government.’ We pay our taxes; we get back services. And when we don’t get what we expect, our “participation” is limited to protest–essentially, shaking the vending machine.”

Tracking Stimulus Dollars in Virginia
Funds from President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are beginning to be dispersed across the Commonwealth. Anybody can easily track what is being done via the website. From $39,121 for educational technology going to Lee County in the far southwestern corner of the state to $1,776,331 for clean water projects up north in Loudoun County to $22,122,238 in fiscal stabilization funds for K-12 education in Virginia Beach, the information is all there. Interactive graphs 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. It even provides phone numbers for state officials working on the project. Furthermore, every data page makes it easy to export all the information to an excel spreadsheet, allowing anyone to download and analyze the data as they see fit.

While is certainly a useful tool, if you’re lucky enough to live in Norfolk, Roanoke or Alexandria you are in even better luck on the stimulus tracking front. Each of these counties has put together a county level stimulus tracking site, providing citizens access to all of the stimulus related projects going on. All of the stimulus applications, grants and ongoing projects for each of these localities are being listed at a single, comprehensive website, an impressive accomplishment in transparency for these local governments.

Apps for America Finalists Announced
Earlier this month Sunlight Labs announced three finalists in its Apps for America contest. In no particular order the finalists are: GovPulse, ThisWeKnow and Datamasher.

  • GovPulse provides you an organized way to read through the Federal Register, the official journal of the federal government, which contains most publications of government agencies.
  • If you were to plug your zip code or city and state into ThisWeKnow you would get back all the details the federal government has pertaining to your community. You could discover for instance that since 1993, 5 bills have been introduced about Roanoke, from 2 members of Congress, while in Fairfax; just 2 bills had been introduced by 1 member of Congress.
  • No offense to the other two, but for my money Datamasher is the coolest. It allows you to take two different public data sources and combine them. Some of the highest rated combinations include Money spent per student and SAT scores and How many doctors states get for their money.

COVITS Conference to Focus on Transparency
From September 20th through the 22nd in Williamsburg, the Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium (COVITS) will be holding a program entitled “Government 2.0: Transparency, Collaboration and Participation.” The event’s stated purpose is to “foster discussion and dialogue on the use of information technology as a strategic tool for managers, executives and policy makers.” Aneesh Chopra, former Virginia Secretary of Technology and now Federal Chief Technology Officer, and Jerry Mechling, Harvard School of Government will discuss their thoughts on how technology will be used to transform government and society.

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