Oklahoma’s Recovery Act Web site is very sparse,” the report states. “The state hasn’t posted a list of its spending for specific (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) program areas and completely lacks information about individual projects. Many of the program information links contain outdated information or are dead.”
The good news is that state officials have promised to unveil a new site next month, one with enhanced search capabilities, vendor information and county details of stimulus spending . What I didn’t know Tuesday was that officials at the Office of State Finance had already signed a contract with software company Oracle Corp. for the revamp of the state’s stimulus Web site:
The Oracle software enables the Office of State Finance to effectively and efficiently manage and collect data related to awards, sub-awards and vendor payments from more than 25 state agencies and higher education institutions that have received Federal funding under ARRA and then automatically submit the data in reports mandated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to the FederalReporting.gov Web site. The Oracle solution enables the department to better cleanse, combine and report the data, improving data accuracy.
The new software will cost the state $231,836, which includes annual license fees of $41,806, according the Office of State Finance. The state spent another $74,950 in consulting fees with Oracle to build the Web site and train local employees on the new software.
Michael Clingman, director of the Office of State Finance, said his agency also hopes to use the software for the state’s Open Books Web site and for internal agency use:
The Oracle contract encompasses not only ARRA, but pulls together data for our Open Books project and other reports the state makes to the federal government,” Clingman said in a statement. “In addition, Oracle software licenses will be used for annual financial reports by the state.”
In an interview in December, Clingman said OSF looked at free or open-source options for updates to the state stimulus Web site. In the end, the agency determined it would take too long to implement a new system from scratch, he said.
The state uses an Oracle product, PeopleSoft, for its human resources system, so it already had an existing business relationship with the company. (Oracle purchased PeopleSoft in 2005.) For more details on the Business Intelligence software that the state bought, check out this product sheet from Oracle.
The launch this week of Britain’s open data archive, data.gov.uk, is just the latest effort by governments to provide access to the information they collect. It follows the lead of the U.S. site, data.gov, which was launched last May. The White House’s Open Government Initiative blog had a welcoming note yesterday.
Here in Oklahoma, we need a similar effort. I’d like to see the state, maybe in partnership with local governments, provide a one-stop-shop of downloadable governmental data.
It’s not as if Oklahoma doesn’t already provide a wealth of data on its state agency sites. A quick search found the following downloadable data sets:
–Campaign finance and lobbyist gift-giving data from the state Ethics Commission
–Quarterly labor market information from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission
–Child abuse investigations, food stamp usage and other social welfare information from the Department of Human Services
–Daily tax revenue reports from the Oklahoma Tax Commission
The problem is that data is all over the place, residing deep inside separate agency Web sites. Why not simplify it by providing links from one central page, as well as suggestions for use and a place to see what other developers, media outlets and civic groups have done with the data? There’s plenty of good examples to work from, including Utah, New York City, Washington D.C., and San Francisco to name just a few.
In Oklahoma, we already have a model to work from at the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Spatial Analysis. From its Data Warehouse, the public can download specialized mapping files, called shapefiles, for geographic information systems. (And don’t forgot our own Your Right to Know page, which is a compilation of useful links, searchable databases and online maps we’ve used for stories in The Oklahoman and on NewsOK.com.)
Of course, the immediate barriers are obvious: developing data.ok.gov would cost manpower, time and money, something Oklahoma is lacking right now as it faces budget shortfalls. But several lawmakers, including Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, chairman of the House Government Modernization Committee, have shown interest in advancing the state’s technological agenda. The state also is in the process of hiring a chief information officer, so maybe developing a centralized data site could be part of their job, too.
Meanwhile, if you know of any downloadable data sets from state, city or county government that could be featured on a future data.ok.gov site, leave a comment below.
In a 6-2 ruling, the court said several fees on civil court filings that went to programs in the state Department of Human Services and the state Attorney General’s office were unconstitutional. Justices framed the issue in stark language:
The courts may not be a tax collector for the executive branch of government.
At issue were transfers of court fee income to programs for adoption registries, child abuse investigations and victim services. Justices in the majority called the programs “general welfare” and unrelated to traditional court-related functions:
These three programs, while laudable, are not related to services provided by the courts for which reimbursement to the State is permitted by imposing fees on those making use of the courts. These three programs are not for the maintenance or support of the court system, nor do they defray expenses of the court system. Though such programs may indisputably be worthwhile, and the provision of such services necessary, they do not serve a judicial or even a quasi-judicial function. The possibility that some persons who seek these services may eventually seek redress through the court system and that these programs may enable some of the persons to gain access to the judicial process is too remote and speculative.
The state has 20 days to appeal the ruling and ask the Supreme Court to reconsider the case. But if the ruling stands, that means lawmakers are going to have to find another way to fund the programs, which combined brought in about $4 million a year from court fees.
A larger issue here is the movement away from taxes and toward fees to fund state and local government services. There’s plenty of debate about how to effectively do that, but generally, if the state imposes a fee, it’s in return for a specific service performed for a taxpayer. A tax, meanwhile, is supposed to benefit general services for all taxpayers.
Joe Henchman, director of state projects for the Tax Foundation, said in an interview that fee income and dedicated funding can allow politicians to fund popular programs but still say they won’t raise taxes:
The general fund of a state budget of a state budget is all these different things, and some are more popular than others. I can understand the political motivation of taking out some of the most popular necessities or the things that people really like and then proposing dedicated funding sources for them. … It’s a way of walking away from the abstraction of government, even though ultimately money is fungible. By doing that, all they’re really doing is freeing up money to be spent on something else other than those programs.
Henchman said Oklahoma’s new fee on cash wire transfers is unrelated to the service it funds, which is drug interdiction:
Entirely separate from the tax or fee issue is that they’re only targeting some types of wire transfers. It just goes to show that whatever rationale they have is hogwash. It’s not about regulating wire transfers or stopping drug cartels, it’s about squishing these guys that for whatever reason don’t have the ears of politicians right now.
Here’s how much the state brought in from licenses, permits and fees during the last few years, according to the Office of State Finance. The figures do not include fees for higher education, which is a separate category.
Details are still coming in from yesterday’s devastating earthquake in Haiti. At this point, authorities expect sizeable casualties and deaths, mostly because of the magnitude of the earthquake and the crumbling infrastructure in Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries.
The agency also has some interactive maps you can download if you have Google Earth installed on your computer. This one shows earthquakes in the last seven days. (Note that it includes a minor earthquake reported earlier this week in Oklahoma.)
My colleague Johnny Johnson has a wrap-up today of the most dangerous intersections worked by Oklahoma City police in 2009. For most Oklahoma City drivers, the top 10 locations won’t be much of a surprise. For example, I avoid the Quail Springs Mall area as much as I can, especially during the holiday season.
I plotted the top locations on a Google Map, which you can see by going to our Right to Know page.