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Posts Tagged ‘Bureaucracy’

VDOT: Video Department, Occasionally Transportation

I spent last night with 176 of my fellow Shenandoah County Republicans at our Annual Lincoln Day Dinner. The crowd was the largest its been in years, the food from Shaffer’s catering wonderful (as always), and the speakers electric. I’m working on getting some video up, but there’s one thing I wanted to comment on while I’m getting some of that up. 

As I noted the other day, Senator Mark Obenshain and Delegate Todd Gilbert have been taking VDOT to task for holding rural Virginia hostage in order to provoke legislators into supporting a tax increase, all while the General Assembly has been unable to get an independent audit of the department conducted. Delegate Gilbert devoted most of his speech to the topic, noting some of the waste during the inaugural while calling again for an independent audit. 

Well, from Mark Obenshain’s office, via Tertium Quids, we have word that VDOT is playing its hand as towards where some of the money is going. It appears that, while making the decision to cut services in rural Virginia, there’s plenty of time and money for the department to launch its very own YouTube channel. There, you can watch scenes from the last winter storm (if your local news station and the Weather channel just weren’t enough):

Learn about the Norris Bridge Festival:

And watch five years worth of bridget demolitions, both with natural sound:

And set to OPERA!

Look, some of these videos are good public service announcements, but are they really best distributed via YouTube? The video on workzone safety should be required watching for every high school driver’s ed class, yet I never recall seeing it. Does VDOT really expect to be able to get the public’s attention this way when videos of laughing babies and dancing cats have hits in the millions? A number of the videos are self-serving promotional materials, but should a department with giant orange trucks really have a PR problem? Well, I suppose if it had no idea how to manage it’s money it might…..

YouTube doesn’t charge a fee, but I’m sure that the videographers who either work for the department or are contracted do. VDOTs maintenance workers are fine, hardworking people who take pride in their work. The problem here is with the bureaucracy. They are making cuts that will cripple rural Virginia, all the while not making such non-essential expenditures clear. Call your Delegate and Senator now and demand an independent audit of VDOT. 

Kralik: Cloud Computing future for Gov. IT

February 4, 2009 Leave a comment

David Kralik, director Internet Strategy for Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions, is making the rather bold suggestion that government technologists should start looking at cloud computing for new solutions for government tech. For those not familiar with the concept, Kralik offers up one of the best definitions I’ve seen:

Cloud computing has three basic characteristics: capabilities are accessed over the Internet, housed in an off-site data center, and paid for on a subscription basis. This new model delivers computing applications as a utility, similar to electricity or telephone service. Many applications including e-mail, office document productivity, data storage, and customer databases are moving in this direction because of the opportunity to eliminate the need to buy, maintain, or upgrade information technology systems. But sadly, outdated bureaucratic rules and regulations prevent the federal government from fully being able to embrace and reap the benefits of this technology.

To put it even more simply, think of email. If Microsoft Outlook is the old way, Gmail is the cloud computing way. Microsoft Word=Old; Google Docs=Cloud. Essentially, any sort of application that used to require its own software but can now be accessed via the web. 

Kralik points out, as usual, government IT types are grandstanding by citing security and privacy privilege. However, Kralich points out that the old way is perhaps even more troublesome when it comes to privacy, citing last year’s case when 26 million veterans found their personal data compromised when a laptop was stolen. 

In summary:

The move from mainframe computing to microprocessor was a major transformational change in information technology, as was the transition from punch cards to software and the invention of the Internet. A fourth major transformational shift is occurring right now as software is replaced with “software as a service,” which can significantly improve government operations, lower cost, and move government into the 21st century. As we begin a new session of Congress and new presidential administration, it’s time to give this technology serious consideration.

As the single largest purchaser of information technology, government could benefit from this if only it would get its head out of the sand and into the clouds.

Now just imagine what could be done if county government switched to cloud computing?

Government Transparency, Nebraska Style

January 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Word is that bueracrats in Richmond are scared that transparency might finally come to the state budget and further jeopardize their pet projects (as if the budget crunch wasn’t doing that already), causing them to trot out the excuse that it will cost too much. The Family Foundation, however, begs to differ:

Last year, it said it would cost more than $1 million. This year, between $1.5-$3 million. This might seem plausible except for the fact that no state has created such a search engine for more than $300,000 and the federal government put its $2 trillion of annual spending online for $1 million. Virginia spends a “paltry” $39 billion each year. Most states have done it for free, because OMB Watch, a group that created the software for the feds, has made it available for free to states!

So today, working with the National Taxpayers Union (special thanks to Josh Culling), we secured a statement that will will distribute to the General Assembly. It comes from the Treasurer of Nebraska. He created NebraskaSpending.com by Executive Order in 2007. He proved that putting a searchable budget database online could be done inexpensively without compromising its purpose. For $38,000, NebraskaSpending.com includes information on state government dollars to be spent, state dollars received, investment operation pool, grants, contracts, and a breakdown of property taxes and state aid.

Fighting for Transparency in Capitol Squares

January 17, 2009 Leave a comment

A few days ago Tertium Quids, an independent advocacy organization focused on increasing individual opportunity and the free market while decreasing the size of government (See guys, got it right this time), introduced its 2009 legislative agenda. 

At the core of the agenda is government transparency, which as anyone who has spent more than, say, five minutes on my blog knows is an issue that is very close to my heart. Senator Ken Cuccinelli is carrying SB936, which would require that the state put up a searchable database of all state expenditures, revenues and appropriations. The bill has the support of Bob McDonell, the GOP’s presumptive nominee for Governor, and Bill Bolling, the incumbent Lieutenant Governor. Such support indicates that transparency and limited government may in fact become a cornerstone of the Republican’s 2009 efforts.

TQ even has Senator Chap Petersen from deep blue Fairfax carrying the measure. You would think that a bill with bipartisan support would have plenty of support in and around Capitol Square….

Read more…

Out of business: Privatize ABC now!

January 15, 2009 Leave a comment

From the “Great Idea” file: Senator Mark Obenshain has revived former Delegate Allen Louderback’s dream of privatizing liquor sales in the state. From nvdaily.com

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, said Monday that he plans to introduce a bill that would require the state to unload the 331 liquor outlets and wholesale wine distribution business.

While the finer points are still being worked out, previous studies have found the commonwealth could realize some $700 million in new revenue — or 23 percent of this year’s budget shortfall — every year.

“ABC sales aren’t that impressive,” Obenshain said. Virginia’s stores made a profit of about $104 million last year, roughly equal to the amount of wine and liquor taxes the stores took in.

Taxpayers could do much better by letting the private sector take over, he said.

Farming out the operation of ABC stores was just one of hundreds of recommendations of a 2002 report on government efficiency and effectiveness chaired by former Democratic Gov. L. Douglas Wilder.

I have long been a fan of this proposal. I agree wholeheartedly with Louderback’s simple summation:

I don’t believe that the government should be in enterprises that the private sector can do.

Certainly I understand the argument that by keeping sales under strict control of the government has the potential to keep it out of the hands of chronic alcoholics and youth. But does it really? Increasing technology has made it nearly impossible to credibly fake an ID in many states. Law enforcement and independent training by businesses has done more than anything to ensure the that youths and alcoholics do not have ready access to alcohol. With the sort of cost savings that are possible under the switch to private sales, now is high time for a change.