Washington, DC Embraces Financial Transparency
May 16, 2016 – OpenGov
Photo Credit: Sean Pavone
Congratulations, Washington, DC!
Last Friday, Mayor Muriel Bowser launched an OpenGov Transparency portal as part of the District’s InnoMAYtion initiative to use “technology as a tool for innovation across government.” Civic trust and accountability can now grow as citizens learn about DC’s finances by exploring budgets, revenues, expenses, and capital projects with interactive reports. This is a big step forward for Washington, DC – and it reaffirms two important lessons local governments teach us every day.
First, despite overwhelming fixation on federal affairs, local governments have a pivotal role in our democracy:
Billions of people watch Washington. The federal government debates and affects global war and peace, healthcare, the environment, infrastructure, education, jobs, and more. Citizens need an effective federal government, and this November, millions of citizens – including local government leaders and staff – will elect the Representatives, Senators, and President who will guide America.
But no matter who wins in November, no matter which foreign policies the White House adopts, and no matter a contentious debate’s outcome, all federal officials and employees depend on Washington, DC’s local services. They need roads, schools, clean water, sewers, fire protection, and police just like every other community in America.
This interdependence highlights an obvious point not raised enough in national discourse: all levels of government, although they sometimes argue and work at cross-purposes, embark on a mutual effort to provide services for citizens.
When it comes to our most pressing challenges, the federal government certainly must help develop solutions, but citizens will demand action primarily from local governments because cities, counties, schools, and special districts operate ‘closest to home.’ Calls for action grow louder every year as public policy problems grow and evolve. Consider the following examples:
- According to the American Society of Civil Engineers , America needs to spend over a trillion dollars to bridge the infrastructure funding gap, or deficiencies will cost each household $3,400 in disposable income a year from 2016 to 2025. A Politico survey found that about half of U.S. mayors believe their cities’ infrastructure is in dire condition.
- Opioid and heroin overdoses kill over 27,000 Americans a year – more than die in car accidents. Twelve states have more opioid prescriptions than people, and the challenge spans all races and income levels.
- 16 million children, about a fifth of all American kids, live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty . And the number of children in low-income families (poor and near-poor) rose from 38% in 2008 to 44% in 2014 .
Local governments serve on the frontlines, and they need to be ready – ready to operate as efficiently as possible to provide optimized services, ready to collaborate with state and federal agencies, ready to show citizens how investments of public money address a community’s most urgent problems.
This is where initiatives like Mayor Bowser’s InnoMAYtion come in. Technological innovation within government equips organizations with the tools necessary to operate efficiently and engage citizens by demonstrating concrete and quantifiable ROI. We’re excited to see similar efforts springing up in big and small organizations across the country and eagerly anticipate these programs’ results.
We’re confident governments equipped with innovative technology and guided by visionary leaders can craft and implement solutions to the challenges described above and others, enabling our civic institutions to thrive in the 21st-century.
This brings us to the second lesson both Washington, DC’s InnoMAYtion initiative and other governments’ innovation efforts reinforce. Mark Twain is said to have remarked, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” We’d paraphrase him and say,
“Reports of our civic institutions’ decline are greatly exaggerated.”
Category: Customer Story