Tech Talk

Making Government Transparency More Transparent

Public records requests have surged in recent years, thanks in large part to the transparency and open data movements. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which has been evaluating transparency in state spending for six years, reported that 2015 saw dramatic improvements in how and how much information was provided online. The same goes for cities, where the number of open data sets accessible to the public has climbed since the Open Knowledge Foundation began tracking them in 2013.

But not everyone is riding the transparency wave, especially when it comes to the handling of public records requests. Take Massachusetts. In many ways, the state is a leader in transparency and open data efforts, but when it comes to its public records law, it’s another story. READ MORE

The Sometimes Sad State of Voter Registration in America

The United States takes great pride in being one of the largest and longest running modern democracies in the world. Yet when it comes to having a good voter registration system, we have a long way to go.

Today’s voter registration systems vary widely in terms of quality and effectiveness from state to state, according to a recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice. A dozen states still use paper forms to register voters, making their systems costly to run and prone to errors. The states that do use technology differ in how they use computers to register voters, often making the system less effective than it could be. READ MORE

States Are Slacking on Cybersecurity

Hackers in the past year have broken into computer systems at the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, the Internal Revenue Service and the Office of Personnel Management. The carnage doesn’t stop at the federal level, either. Both South Carolina and Utah were victims in 2012 of major data breaches that compromised personal data stored on government computers. But if you think that these increasingly frequent and expensive breaches, hacks and data leaks have led to the public sector being more prepared, you would be wrong. Public-sector technology is more vulnerable than ever.

At least that’s the word from an August report released by the California state auditor that has state CIOs nationwide taking note. The report revealed that California’s cybersecurity efforts are riddled with so many problems that information could be badly compromised in the event of a cyberattack. It criticized the state technology department for failing to make sure that other state agencies are complying with information security standards. The auditor found 73 out of 77 agencies surveyed were not in compliance. READ MORE

Instead of Fighting, Some Cities Team Up With Airbnb and Uber

State and local governments have had a tumultuous relationship with Uber, Airbnb and other online companies that let people book rides, rooms, and goods and services from people rather than big businesses. Observers have focused a lot of attention on government attempts to control peer-to-peer services, yet some state and local governments are trying to use the sharing economy to their own benefit.

So far, the efforts have been limited. Most recently, Uber announced a partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 180 cities to send Amber Alerts to their drivers. But interesting models have emerged in a couple of other areas. READ MORE

States Seek Upgrades for Decades-Old Medical Technology

The technology upon which most states run their Medicaid programs is old, clunky and slow. To make matters worse, the expansion of Medicaid in a number of states under the Affordable Care Act has only put more pressure on these aging systems. Now nearly a quarter of states are looking to modernize them, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. But officials aren’t eager to risk a lot of money on another system that will be old, clunky and slow by the time it’s completed.

For decades, states have built their Medicaid Management Information Systems (MMIS) all at once -- and that makes sense. After all, a single, tightly integrated computer system seems like it would be the best way to run one of state government’s biggest and most complex programs. This big-bang approach, however, has a couple of serious flaws. READ MORE