Washington State: The Leading Edge Of Data-Driven Finance
Bill Schrier, Senior Policy Advisor/Program Manager for the State of Washington’s Office of the CIO, recently sat down with Socrata to talk about how the Evergreen State is embracing open data and financial transparency.
Congratulations on being recognized by GovTech as one of the leading states using technology to deliver government services. How is Washington differentiating itself from other states in this regard?
Thanks. Well, the thing GovTech recognized was fiscal.wa.gov, which is at the leading edge, since it’s been up for four or five years now. It was put together by the Washington State LEAP Committee (Legislative Evaluation & Accountability Program) and allows anyone from public to use standard reports or create their own and then download those as CSV or Excel or even PDF files.
So it’s a financial transparency site?
Yes, it’s more a financial transparency site than say, an open checkbook app. For instance, there’s no API like there is at data.wa.gov, our open data portal, but you can very easily look at individual transactions.
How did Washington end up with two different sites?
The fiscal site was started long before we had an open data portal. It was funded by the State Legislature for financial transparency purposes and, specifically, to provide legislators with information that can help in the budgeting process.
Do you imagine you’ll ever combine the fiscal and data sites?
Eventually I would like to take the data from the financial site and stream it to data.wa.gov, because I realize it will make it easier for developers and other citizens to work with. Right now, there’s not a lot of financial data on the open data portal. But even after the financial data is ported over, fiscal.wa.gov will stay up and running since its been so successful, has its own SQL database, as well as the attention of the Legislature.
What are some of the innovative ways Washington is using this financial data?
The Office of the Chief Information Officer has established a Technology Business Management (TBM) Council that is dedicated to maximizing the value of the State’s IT investments. By partnering with local firm Apptio, we can take financial data, make them more usable internally, and leverage the data to make business-aligned decisions.
So all our major state agencies catalogue their technology applications and the cost to run and staff them. In turn, that lets the CIO’s office tell the legislature how much it takes to run a piece of hardware or software and we are better able to manage the costs of technology and improve our elected officials understanding of what’s happening inside of state departments.
We apply our understanding of these operating costs to our Legacy Modernization Program, which looks at old programs, like ones that run on mainframes, for example. Since we know exactly how much it costs us to run those older programs today, we can easily compare costs on deploying a new application and figure out what is most efficient to replace, when. We can also rank all major projects [of over $100,000] based on which are the most important investments, through a special metrics system we’ve developed. Then, we report technology needs to the legislature, so they can make more educated budgetary decisions.
Apart from financial transparency, Washington has also been recognized for its salmon report. Can you tell us about that?
Yes, we have what we call the “State of the Salmon” report, which is compiled by the Salmon Recovery Office. This is really important to the State of Washington, because commercial and recreational fishermen rely on salmon availability. Also, under a treaty we have, tribal nations have the right to half of the salmon catch. So we really need to be proactively monitoring salmon.
Now, we haven’t really changed the way we approach salmon recovery, but we have made the state’s data on it open, as opposed how we used to make it available as a PDF. It used to cost Washington a lot of money [$50,000 per year] to produce the report, now it’s always available online and is automatically updated.
Is there anything else new on the open data front?
Earlier this year, Reuven Carlyle introduced House Bill 2202 which would have created an open data policy for Washington. Unfortunately, it didn’t pass, but it did lead state agencies to want to learn more about about open data.
So, the CIO’s Office has hired Wil Saunders to serve as an in-government advocate for the adoption of open data standards, starting this month. Wil already works in the state government and has been active in the local civic hacking community, so we think he’s the perfect fit to help individual departments not just make their data open, but get in touch with their customers and make the data useful to the public.
Is there an issue connecting the public to the state’s open data?
There are some state agencies which do this now and lots of them have open data available. It’s just locked up in their own websites, so to speak. The department websites don’t necessarily make the data easy to consume. So, as I said before, I’d like to tackle that issue by at least duplicating the data that’s currently only on department sites onto our consolidated, open data portal. That would go a long way to address searchability and findability issues and to create interest in the data the State of Washington has available.