Some governments don't think they're ignoring the visually or hearing impaired because they say the same information they post is available through other channels. But that dismisses the fact that these sites encourage conversation and should be easily accessible.
When's the last time you've gone phishing at the office? New York State did an exercise in 2005, sending a fake email to 10,000 state employees in five agencies. The "scam" perpetrated by security officials, was a spot check on employee e-mail behavior.
Cities fighting to be the greenest in the land should look to Victoria, British Columbia, for some tips. In April, we wrote about cities hiring hiring sustainability or energy directors to encourage departments to turn off lights and shut computers when they're not in use.
So we just finished a special pre-conference session on city 311 systems, and some of the panelists cited a common problem: You set up this great 311 system, and then what happens? Other departments and jurisdictions want to horn in on your success without paying their fair share or doing the work!
Two years ago, Missouri's new governor, Matt Blunt, and the state's new chief information officer, Dan Ross, had a vision: an efficient, centralized, streamlined IT operation that delivered each cabinet agency the services it needed while relieving the agencies of the considerable burden of managing an IT shop. Accomplishing this goal meant consolidating the technology operations of 14 agencies, with thousands of employees and more than $250 million in funding among them.
Much of the time in government, change is brought about by those on the inside. Over the years, we have often told the story of career public servants who knew precisely how to transform troubled institutions once they got the chance.
When a hurricane strikes Florida, the first concern of residents is to
protect their homes and evacuate if necessary. The Florida Turnpike
Enterprise, part of the Florida Department of Transportation, sees its
job as providing a safe haven as evacuees travel the road.
When it comes to using technology to streamline the health care
system, the biggest buzz is about digitizing individuals' health
records--putting them in a standardized format and connecting them via
Starting this summer, New York State meetings must be webcast for the
public if they fall under the state's open meetings law. As one of his
first official actions as governor, Eliot Spitzer signed an executive
order requiring state agencies and public authorities to come up with
plans to broadcast all such meetings on the Internet.
Manure lagoons, bad. Manure digesters, good. That is the argument that
Texas' Gulf Coast Industrial Development Authority used in floating
$60 million in revenue bonds to finance four digester machines that
will help keep farm runoff from polluting land, water and air.
Four years ago, nine miners accidentally tunneled into a flooded mine in Pennsylvania that wasn't on any map. It took three days to rescue them, and the accident at Quecreek Mine was a wake-up call to the state's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety. The mining community it serves obviously needed a comprehensive, digital map that would chart the thousands of mines, active and closed, in the state.
Half the people in Tennessee's motor vehicle offices don't need to be there. They could be getting their services online. Tennessee learned this by getting research assistance from its native logistics expert: Federal Express.
Post-Hurricane Katrina, post-9/11, post-Northridge earthquake, post-Rita/Wilma/Andrew, post-fill-in-disaster-of-your-choice-here, I can't help but roll my eyes at this story from Sacramento.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently ...
In most places, traffic cops don't get no respect for hanging around to nab drivers for their sins. In Seattle, however, two motorcycle cops are revered for patrolling a freeway ramp to stop drivers who cut in line.
Municipalities in Minnesota, constrained by a state law that limits public employee salaries to 95 percent of the governor's pay, have been trying to figure out ways to get around the $114,000 a year cap.
About $2,500 worth of checks was bouncing each semester before the
high school in Grossmont, California, adopted a no-check policy. But
that doesn't mean that students have to come to school with wads of
cash for their books, cheerleader uniforms, prom tickets and class
rings. Instead, they can take plastic to an automatic teller machine
and get the cash they need--right at school.
It took a little longer than expected, but law-enforcement agencies in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia are now sharing local data through a system called the Capital Wireless Integrated Network, or CapWIN, which became operational in June ["Can We Talk?" May 2003]. "We're finally getting traction," says Roddy Moscoso, CapWIN's marketing manager. "Some key milestones have been reached."
It didn't seem to make much sense that within a two-mile stretch of his commute south into Boston, Daniel Grabauskas, Massachusetts' secretary of transportation, drove on a road maintained by the highway department, a bridge run by the port authority and a parkway run by the conservation and recreation department.
Construction of the largest fiber-to-the-premises project in the country has begun in multiple cities in the Salt Lake City area, following the sale of $85 million in bonds for the project's first phase ["Plug Me In," July 2004].
Things are really murky around Hawaii's Capitol these days. But it has nothing to do with politics or legislative issues. Rather, it's the green slime found in the two large reflecting pools in the Capitol's courtyard.
The "vroom, vroom" of engines getting ready to drag race may still be heard on San Diego streets, but the shouts of encouragement from onlookers have diminished markedly. It's not that the "sport" of illegal street racing is any less exciting to aficionados. Rather, those who watch can now be arrested and fined $1,000 or thrown in jail for six months.
The governors of Arizona and New Mexico have made it official: Homeland security and law enforcement officials will share unclassified intelligence information state to state. And perhaps eventually expand the effort to other states as well.
Surveyors have determined the exact center of the state of Arizona's population, and it is in the town of Gilbert. Unfortunately, the precise spot is in the middle of someone's backyard, so the brass monument to Gilbert's new claim to fame is located in a public park about a mile away.
Back taxes are streaming into Massachusetts' coffers. No, delinquent taxpayers haven't been born again with a keener sense of civic duty. Rather, the revenue department has cranked up the technology to find tax scofflaws it used to miss.
The technology outsourcing relationship between San Diego County and CSC Corp. started out with high hopes in late 1999 ["Taking Tech Private," May 2000], but nearly ended in divorce a few years later. "We went through a very painful time," says Michael Moore, the county's chief information officer.
Powder rooms, ladies' rooms, restrooms. Call them what you will, just make enough available for women in need, say members of the New York City Council, announcing a bill requiring public facilities to offer more lavatory amenities for women than men.
It's been dubbed the Kokomo hum, but it isn't soothing music to the people who hear it. In the late 1990s, people in Kokomo, Indiana, started complaining about a baffling low-level noise they claimed was affecting their health.
North Carolina is very excited about grid computing. But then, who wouldn't be? The state claims its grid computing initiative will have a $10 billion impact over seven years and create a net of 24,000 jobs, even after taking into account the 31,700 jobs that will be lost due to adoption of new technologies.
When people think of old-time bordello dancers, or "sisters of riotous sensuality," as they were sometimes called, what generally come to mind are young dancers in black stockings, high heels and frilly dresses.
A brochure with a manure-odor scratch 'n' sniff might not sound like a very good civic advertisement. But it's what Ottawa County, Michigan, is using to provide a reality check to city folk who hope to move out to the country for the fresh air, quietude and sweet smell of hay.
No more of this milk-and-cookies stuff. Detroit wants hard numbers on what kids are doing after school and how that affects their grades, their likelihood to use drugs or engage in sexual activity and other outcomes.
Paul Choate thought it would be amusing to wander over to a protest during an agriculture conference at the Sacramento Convention Center toting a sign about the World Trade Federation of Naboo (a reference to the Star Wars planet).
Earlier this year, Illinois' new secretary of transportation pulled his car over on the Dan Ryan Expressway to introduce himself to some highway maintenance workers and found a couple of them sleeping in their vehicles by the side of the road.
Charles Bronson, Florida's agriculture commissioner, has no plans to be a pistol-packin' papa in the halls of government, but he wants to be prepared all the same. Ever since September 11, 2001, security has tightened at the state Capitol and metal detectors have been placed at entrances. Everyone's a little more cautious than they used to be.
The idea guys behind the installation of a giant lava lamp in the depressed town of Soap Lake, Washington, call it a "wonderfully whimsical" structure that will draw visitors the way the Eiffel Tower and the Space Needle draw tourists to Paris and Seattle. On the other hand, a Kansas woman said the idea was the dumbest thing she'd ever heard. But she told Mayor Ken Lee that if the town builds it, she'd come to have a look.
What, exactly, does a pilot's ability to right a plane after the tail fin snaps off have to do with the prosperity of Roswell, New Mexico? Plenty. The small city has landed a flight safety training center that will boost its image as an aviation hub and help attract more aviation-related businesses to the area.
Meals are generally considered to be a highlight of life behind bars. So states take a risk when they mess with inmates' mess. In the wake of budget cuts, however, Iowa has been pruning prison meals to save money on food.
When California was in the throes of its energy crisis two years ago, state agencies did everything possible to conserve energy immediately. Employees unplugged coffee pots and refrigerators and even worked in the dark with flashlights.
Hear the one about the dumb guy who locked himself out of his car? It took him three hours to get the rest of his family out. This joke may be especially amusing to police in San Diego, who now actually have a way to lock people in cars so they can't get out.
You've heard of the "thin blue line"? Bethany, Oklahoma, is pinning its hopes on a thick one. The town painted a bright blue, 8-foot-wide line to denote where its boundaries end and those of the next city over begin.
The cost of prescription drugs is rising faster than any other component of health care--as much as 20 percent this year, according to estimates. With those escalating prices in mind, several states are making efforts to help older citizens deal with the pocketbook pressure of paying for their medicines.
The latter is the case in Massachusetts, where a new program allows players in some 350 communities to virtually rebuild their cities and learn the economic, fiscal and political ramifications of their choices.
The award didn't come with a dinner, money or even a handshake. And it wasn't exactly what you'd describe as an honor. Yet winning the national "Pickled Skunk Brain" award did bring Monroe County, Indiana, its 15 minutes of...well, recognition.
The state giveth, and now it may taketh away. Missouri started a procurement card program in 1998 to reduce the administrative expenses of low-cost purchases. But a recent state audit showed that procurement cards may be leaving the state unnecessarily liable.
New Jersey is counting on a new public corporation to speed up sorely needed school financing and construction--and end the bureaucratic tangle that was tripping up school districts trying to make improvements or build new facilities.
Working with tight budgets, state and local officials responsible for managing technology are focused on figuring out how to fund the technology they need and how to get the most value for the dollars that do come their way.
Continental Airlines recently e-mailed its customers that the next time they signed on to the airline's Web site they'd "see something special on our home page: your name." California, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia, among other states, are not impressed. They beat Continental to the punch.
The "not in my backyard" syndrome typically applies to landfills or sewage-treatment facilities. But Las Vegas is not your typical community and neither is the NIMBY situation there. In the case of Sin City, residents have been fighting over the placement of a thrill ride.
The situation could hardly have been more ironic. At the same time that Nevada's top officials were fighting against becoming the nation's nuclear waste dumping ground, the state proudly unveiled a new license plate design: a mushroom cloud from an atomic explosion.
A small New Jersey-based company has tapped into humankind's primal instinct to fight parking tickets. For a fee, parkingticket.com's software will scan databases in New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., hunting for technicalities or other reasons why a ticket could be challenged in those cities.
It had to hurt. Washington State paid $85 million in court judgments
and settlements this past fiscal year, a 240 percent jump over the
year before and a quantum leap over the highest payout--$26 million--
in the past 10 years. "We tend to be the deep pocket," says Marty
Brown, director of the Governor's Office of Financial Management.
Fifty dollars went a long way in the era of the horse and buggy. But
issuing a $50 fine in the 21st century, as a penalty for potentially
dangerous municipal code infractions, doesn't seem like much of a
deterrent. Yet, under a Tennessee constitutional provision set in
1796, that is the maximum amount the Metropolitan government of
Nashville and Davidson County can impose as punishment, according to a
ruling issued by the state Supreme Court in September.
The auctioneer's cry can still be heard as state and local governments
periodically put surplus goods on the block. But governments are
finding that selling surplus goods online can be more efficient--and
can bring in a lot more money than a traditional auction.
People in many areas of the country may see haze or notice a rotten
odor and wonder if it's pollution. Residents of Yellowstone County,
Montana, can find out for sure. By clicking on an air-quality
information Web site, they can check levels of sulfur dioxide in the
air during the past hour and also can see historical data on the
A penny saved is a penny shared by Delaware Department of
Transportation employees. Millions of dollars saved can turn into real
dollars in their pockets under two new pilot programs that reward
employees with cash if they propose money-saving ideas.
The complicated federal health care law known as HIPAA has produced an
interesting side effect in Washington State: It has broken down
barriers between agencies. Seven state agencies have joined forces on
an intranet Web site to help them internally with following the law.
And they've extended that cooperation to a public Internet site that
will provide information updates to health care providers, hospitals,
employers and other interested parties.
What does it cost to launch a government Web site? It's a question
that makes some governments uncomfortable, fearing apples-and-oranges
comparisons with other jurisdictions. Governments budget for their Web
sites in different ways, some including staff time and maintenance
time, some paying from a central IT office, some paying through
individual departments, some outsourcing, some building in-house.
Self-funding models for e-procurement seemed like a grand idea for
budget-strapped purchasing departments: The private sector would foot
the bill while the public sector got itself an automated purchasing
Corporations have been rushing to create a new executive position:
"chief privacy officer." They're awash in a flood of privacy concerns
from customers who worry whether their personal information is being
trafficked over the Internet. Few governments have created such a
position, but some now are starting to follow in those corporate
The recent discovery of wooden vats from an old rum distillery doesn't
mean that Albany, New York, suddenly has a new brownfield on its
hands. Indeed, there's no contamination on the downtown site--only
artifacts. But deciding what to do with them has delayed construction
of a $12 million municipal parking garage.
Indiana legislators don't have to play by the same rules of disclosure
as everyone else. On the last day of Indiana's legislative session,
lawmakers approved a bill that exempts them from the state's public-
It's hard to find anyone shedding even crocodile tears over the demise
of the Economic Development of Arkansas Fund Commission. It's not that
the commission didn't do a good job in providing money for water,
sewer and other economic development projects. But the legislature,
the administration--even the head of the commission itself--see good
reasons to let the commission expire in January 2002.
They're phrases used by the not-for-profit government associations
when they talk about deals they have cut with for-profit companies,
usually to provide goods and services to members. Mayors, county
executives and other members of national membership organizations may
wonder how their associations decide to make agreements with
particular technology vendors and e-government companies, why they do
it, and how those deals benefit the associations and their members.
The pressure is on Wisconsin localities to work together. Governor
Scott McCallum has endorsed a major recommendation in a report
commissioned by former Governor Tommy Thompson that was supposed to
come up with "radical and bold" ideas for Wisconsin government.
Among the first things you see on entering Kerrville, Texas, are
dozens of yellow portable toilets. It's not the kind of pleasant
welcome that city officials had planned on when they changed zoning
restrictions in 1997. That's when planners decided to zone for a
"gateway" into town that would foster tourism with hotels, restaurants
and other visitor services.
This year's crop of new governors faced a transition task that their
predecessors did not. Incoming administrations have always had to
change names on office doors and update highway welcome signs. This
time, administration employees also had to update state Web sites to
reflect the change in administration.
When food fights started erupting on a regular basis last fall at Paul
V. Moore High School in upstate New York, something had to be done. So
the principal came up with an idea: Have the parents of students
suspended for launching their lunch across the table--or the room--eat
in the cafeteria with their progeny for a week in exchange for
expunging the suspension from school records.
Tiger Woods would love it. The city of Dallas' newly refurbished golf
course is designed to attract golfers who used to drive 30 minutes out
of the city to play on fancy, upper-end courses. Its quality grasses
can be mowed to an eighth of an inch so that balls roll as if they're
on low-nap carpet.
Don't always believe what you read, says Bruce Kenney, a systems
management engineer with the West Virginia Department of
Transportation. A local newspaper recently ran a story saying that
since the state privatized the striping of its highways, costs have
almost doubled to $9 million. And that, Kenney says, is simply not so.
The overall costs may actually be lower.
Philadelphia's city controller, Jonathan Saidel, didn't mince words in
his audit of one troubled school system technology project. Taxpayers
underwrote a new computer system for financial management, human
resources and payroll that was "inefficiently procured, wastefully way
over budget and still doesn't do many of the things it was intended to
do," Saidel wrote.
The timing was coincidental, but it was bad nevertheless. Hartford, Connecticut, officials were already under fire for their plan to visit a new Chinese sister city while in the midst of conducting a national search for a police chief.
Go to Honolulu's Web site for information on the city council or local elections, and you will encounter something you might not expect to see on a government Web page: an advertisement from Prudential Locations.
"Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee." The poet John Donne may have extolled the virtues of nudity, but the Institute in Basic Life Principles doesn't buy it. When the Christian home-schooling group arrived in Sacramento and saw an unclad statue of Poseidon outside the convention center where its week-long meeting was to be held, attendees recoiled in dismay.
As technology continues to offer new potential for more effective and efficient government operations and services, public officials at all levels are recognizing that the challenge of managing technology requires new modes of communication, collaboration and organization.
Last year at this time, it was the calm before the marketing storm of e-government. Dot-com companies were beginning to burst onto the scene, offering to make it easy and convenient for citizens to go online to pay tickets and taxes and get licenses and permits.
An auditing team looking into the Chicago school system's technology operations had an interesting experience last summer: They were able to walk right into a new data center during normal business hours, without an escort and without being questioned, and were even able to get their hands on equipment and data.
When the Orange County Transit Authority in California needs new bus parts, it no longer types and mails solicitation letters, waiting for bids to trickle in. Its new online procurement system automatically develops bid solicitations and e-mails them to vendors who have registered on CAMM NET, the online system operated by the authority's Contracts Administration and Materials Management Department, and found at www.octa.net/cammnet.
The cost of prescription drugs is soaring. For many states, it is the fastest-growing health care expense, with prescription drugs doubling over the past six years in some states and costs for Medicaid prescription drugs increasing 15 percent annually in several states.
Civic boosters in Cincinnati have an idea: If they put 250 painted fiberglass pigs in public places around town, people will come in droves to see the l'il porkers and the city will be awash in tourism dollars.
Sometimes, a penny saved is an accident waiting to happen. California Governor Gray Davis learned that lesson the hard way when a secretary in his office tripped over the very old, worn and wrinkled carpeting he'd decided not to have replaced. She fell right before his eyes, slightly injuring her ankle.
Delaware is placing a three-year time limit on rent subsidies. The experiment is part of a larger federal demonstration program to help long-time public housing residents become financially independent.