Access 2010 GovTech

Experts: Use Technology to Open Government


By Brenda Acevedo

RICHMOND, Va. – Thanks to the Internet, citizens have greater access to government records and other public information, representatives of government agencies said Friday at a panel discussion at the state Capitol.

"The whole idea is that you should be able to go online and not have to ask," said Emily Siebert, a marketing and public relations specialist for the Virginia Information Technology Agency, which oversees the state government's computer operations.

Siebert and other panelists said that with technology, the government can comply more efficiently with the Virginia's Freedom of Information Act, which states that most government records should be open to the public.

The panel discussion on government technology was part of the annual conference held by the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, a nonprofit alliance that promotes access to government records and meetings at the state and local levels. Attendees included community leaders, news media representatives and government officials.

"We are on a huge exponential increase in the world," said Barry Condrey, chief information officer for Chesterfield County government.

Condrey said the Internet is a valuable resource through which citizens should be able to access information.

Siebert agreed.

"We are working towards a shared service model that benefits both open government, open data and your ability to find out what government is doing," she said.

Siebert said government agencies need money to improve their technology so they can provide more information to citizens online. She said her agency, VITA, will work with other state and local officials on developing better systems.

Condrey said the Council on Virginia's Future, another state agency, has created a system called Virginia Performs, a scorecard that measures the state's progress on economic issues, education, the environment, transportation and other areas.

Through Virginia Performs, citizens can monitor how state agencies are doing.

The state auditor of public accounts is also encouraging greater government accountability and transparency, said Holli Ploog, a vice president of CGI Group Inc., a global information technology and business process services firms.

The state auditor has posted on the Web budget data and spending records for government agencies.

"The public can peruse this information and find out how much the government is spending," Ploog said. As a result, she said, Virginia has saved more than $300 million.

Technology can enhance citizen services and communication, said Leslie Fuentes, director of information technology for the City of Hampton.

Fuentes is the website coordinator for a nonprofit group called MuniGov 2.0, which is promoting the use of social media by local governments.

The next step is for governments, citizens, news organizations and other groups to manage the power of social media, sometimes called Web 2.0, Fuentes said.

People are using the Internet not just to get information but to provide information, and that's how governments should interact with citizens, Fuentes said.

"You don't just get the newspaper and read it," said Fuentes. She said citizens want the ability to provide feedback and react to information.