A transparency website is meant to provide the public easy access to information, but it isn’t always updated quickly.

By Courtney Teague

Honolulu Civil Beat — May 8, 2018

Original story: http://www.civilbeat.org/2018/05/hawaii-gets-an-f-for-its-transparency-on-state-government-spending/

 

A measure that would have required the state to publish the formulas used to calculate the financial impact of proposed bills died in the Legislature in the recently adjourned session.

That probably came as no surprise to public interest researchers who say the state government needs to be more open about its spending practices.

Hawaii is among the worst in the nation when it comes to being transparent about the way state government spends its money, according to a new study of state transparency sites.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund gave the Aloha State an F for transparency, two grades lower than the C it received in the last report two years ago. California, Alaska and Wyoming were the only states to score lower.

That’s because the state’s transparency webpage hasn’t updated its spending information since 2016, said Michelle Sirka, tax and budget campaigns director for the PIRG fund. The same is true for budget information on the webpage.

The report also found the webpage was glitch-prone and lacked a multi-tiered search function.

Gov. David Ige’s administration has made strides in improving government accessibility online — such as modernizing the state payroll and tax systems — but there’s more to be done, said Christine Mai‘i Sakuda, head of the nonprofit Transform Hawaii Government. The agency advocates for a more open and transparent government through technology.

Sakuda wondered whether the state has set a plan and priorities for updating information on its website. It’s not just the transparency webpage that contains outdated information, she said.

“Clearly the data not being up is a reflection of no one’s eyes are on that and thought that it was important enough to update, which is unfortunate and not acceptable,” Sakuda said.

Brian Black, head of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, presented testimony on the issue at a meeting before the state’s Information Technology Steering Committee last week. Part of the committee’s role includes developing plans for and assessing state IT systems.

Black’s testimony, drafted after meeting with groups who support accessible data, suggested the state prioritize posting financial, tax and procurement data, plus certain data from the departments of Health, Commerce and Consumer Affairs, and Land and Natural Resources.

He recommended the state educate the public on available data and ensure it’s posted in a timely manner and machine readable format, meaning the file can be easily opened on a computer.

“Providing a central site for electronic data allows the public to find information efficiently,” Black wrote.

The state plans to follow those priorities when revamping its website, said Todd Nacapuy, head of the Office of Enterprise Technology Services, which oversees the transparency webpage.

The spending data won’t be posted to the transparency site in the immediate future, but Laurel Johnston, head of the Department of Budget and Finance, noted it is already posted to her department’s webpage.

“The data is there, it’s just maybe not the way that PIRG or others might want it so they can compare by state,” Johnston said.

The vendor that the Office of Enterprise Technology Services currently uses to host its data, Socrata, is expensive, Nacapuy said. A contract with a new vendor should be finalized within the next month and a half — that’s when the state will start work on posting the latest spending data to its transparency page.

U.S. PIRG wasn’t impressed with Hawaii’s site, but Nacapuy pointed to ETS’s Department Dashboard, which launched this year.

It breaks down a timeline of IT projects by state department and shows the cost, whether they’re on track and its project managers. The dashboard ensures accountability of the state’s IT projects, he said, adding that it’s the first such site in the nation.

Senate Bill 2257 would have required the Department of Taxation to make public the formulas used to calculate the financial impact of a bill. It died two weeks ago in conference committee, where lawmakers from both chambers attempt to work out differences.

The Tax Foundation of Hawaii wrote in testimony that the availability of information about those estimates was “spotty at best.”

“Having the information would be a great step toward openness and transparency in important legislative decisions,” the group wrote.

The Hawaii Community Foundation’s Omidyar Ohana Fund supports Transform Hawaii Government. Pierre Omidyar is the CEO and publisher of Civil Beat.

Additionally, The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest is an independent organization created with funding from Pierre Omidyar. Civil Beat Editor Patti Epler sits on its board of directors.

Continuing tax system modernization must remain atop state’s priority list.

By Christine Sakuda

Honolulu Civil Beat (Community Voice) – Feb. 22, 2018
Original Story: http://www.civilbeat.org/2018/02/progress-made-on-improving-hawaiis-revenue-engine/

Amid news stories about federal government shutdowns and false missile alerts, one the state’s most ambitious modernization initiatives, Tax System Modernization, has not been grabbing headlines. But it is proceeding and, apparently, succeeding, despite its low profile of late.

At the end of March, the door will close on options to file business taxes via the state’s legacy (i.e., old) tax-filing site. But that’s a good thing, since that means those services will have been successfully moved to the state’s new tax filing portal, Hawaii Tax Online.

Over the course of five rollouts, each making new functions available, the majority of tax services have been migrated to Hawaii Tax Online. “Rollout 3” was completed last summer and included services for Corporate Income, Franchise, Public Service Company and Withholding filers. This followed the previous two rollouts that included General Excise, Transient Accommodation and other types of taxes.

Electronic Filing ‘Inevitable’

The flicking of the off-switch for those services on the old site — with little fanfare or controversy — will provide evidence the rollout succeeded.

In fact, thanks to the newly launched electronic filing capability for business filers, the Hawaii Legislature can consider bills like Senate Bill 2822, which authorizes the Department of Taxation to require certain taxpayers to file digital returns exclusively, subject to a few exceptions.

Yes, some business users may be reluctant to go paperless, but such progress is inevitable as electronic filing becomes the norm at both the state and federal levels. In order for this to be successful, the Tax Department has acknowledged it also needs to beef up its help-desk support to prepare for the influx in calls. After all, customer interaction with new technology can be embraced with a little bit of handholding.

Legislators should be applauded for exploring all opportunities to nudge taxpayers toward using the capabilities of the new system. In addition to maximizing the state’s return on investment, business filers over the long-term will realize the cost-efficiencies associated with filing electronically. SB 2822 provides a mechanism for the tax department to encourage those with the best reasons to file electronically to be first users of the system and demonstrate its effectiveness.

Keep Up Momentum

With similar functionality scheduled to “go live” for individual filers during the next rollout, the Tax System Modernization must remain a state priority. Whether the project continues now depends on the approval of the Legislature.

In the governor’s supplemental budget proposal submitted in December, the administration is asking for an additional $16.5 million in capital improvement project funds to cover the completion of the functional requirements scheduled for next fiscal year (FY19) as well as the warranty period (FY20). Transform Hawaii Government supports this request to keep the momentum of the project moving on its current schedule.

The project remains a worthy investment. A modern, effective and efficient state tax collection system is what Hawaii taxpayers — all taxpayers — expect and deserve.

But it is critical that legitimate concerns raised by lawmakers about a range of problems be addressed; otherwise, the Legislature would be justified in withholding the funds as it did during the last legislative session. Going into the 2018 session, the administration must take steps to provide additional reassurance that the project is delivering functionality as intended.

‘Unprecedented Action’

Providing the state chief information officer with greater oversight of technological aspects of the project in July 2017 was a good first step.The CIO took the unprecedented action of publicly posting the project’s Independent Validation and Verification reports, which are quarterly progress assessments by a third-party contractor.

Many of the issues involving the former IVV vendor came to light and were addressed as a result of that direct involvement by the state’s top technology official and his commitment to full transparency. That IVV contract ended as a result.

With greater transparency established and a new tax director in place, the Department of Taxation is now in a position to take back the lead role. I am told that the tax department is working with the CIO’s office to procure a new IVV vendor, which will ensure the continuation of these periodic third-party assessments.

While the project represents an ambitious initiative, it also stands out as one of the most necessary. The project is making progress in giving the state a more robust revenue engine and the technology needed to support it. Ultimately, it is a worthy investment, as a modern tax collection system delivers what Hawaii taxpayers expect and deserve.

Such thoughts are sure to be top of mind as taxpayers file this season.

Transform Hawaii Government was established to promote an open, transparent, and responsive Hawaii government. The nonprofit organization advocates improving government business practices through technology to ensure government employees, residents and businesses have convenient and secure access to reliable information and data on demand.

Our goal is to have government services streamlined, integrated and delivered in ways that exceed the expectations of the public and the needs of Hawaii businesses. For more information, visit transformhawaiigov.org.

Original story here: https://www.bizjournals.com/pacific/news/2018/01/17/kauai-coffee-to-implement-tech-developed-from.html

By: Anna Hrushka

Hawaii’s first agriculture hackathon wrapped up over the weekend, with a local coffee grower planning to implement the technology developed by the competition’s first place finishers.

Kauai Coffee Company General Manager Fred Cowell said he plans to use Harvest Vision’s artificial intelligence camera in its fall harvest this year.

The device, which earned the team a $3,000 first place price, gives immediate harvest data to operators in the field, and was developed through the combined talent of Oceanit Labs, Kauai Coffee and Kamehameha Schools.

Cowell said he anticipates the system would increase coffee fruit recovery with an added value of nearly $250,000 per year.

A total of 10 teams participated in the week-long competition, which kicked off after the Department of Agriculture provided participants with a list of prompts or areas in need of solutions.

A digital app for non-English speaking farmers placed second, and an online data tool that allows farmers to input information and trace problems to an exact source took third.

“Events like this prove that in a short period of time, through bringing people together, we can create solutions,” said Robbie Melton, CEO of the Hawaii Technology Development Corporation, which hosted the event.

Melton said next year she would like to extend the competition’s timeframe, giving participants a longer period to develop their projects.

Sponsors for the event were the State of Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture, HTDC, Ulupono Initiative, the Transform Hawaii Government Coalition, Smart Yields, Whitmore Economic Development Group and Hawaii Open Data.

“It’s critically important for us to support these types of events,” said Transform Hawaii Government Executive Director Christine Sakuda, who also judged the competition. “We are always advocates of finding real world applications to help solve some of the state’s challenges.”

The Open Data Movement Is Growing
But it will take commitment by officials and demands by the public to transform government.

By Christine Sakuda

http://www.civilbeat.org/2017/11/the-open-data-movement-is-growing/

The data continuously collected and stored by government agencies can become a tool for dramatic positive change, but only if it’s made available to those with the ability to organize it and meaningfully package it.

Once this resource is tapped and packaged, it can be leveraged to improve the quality of life for Hawaii residents, enhance the way government functions and enable citizens to better understand how agencies and departments are operating as a result of improvements in transparency and accountability.

Michael Flowers, the Chief Analytics Officer of New York City, noted that governments have a huge fire hose of information, but a fire hose is only valuable when it’s pointed at a fire. Collecting information about traffic patterns in a file is not helpful by itself, but becomes more valuable when transportation planners use the information to redesign traffic patterns.

This was the Hawaii Tax Department’s receiving and sorting section during tax season a few years ago. The state has made some progress coming into the digital era, but much more work is needed to make public information easily accessible and meaningful.

But what really matters is not the digital file, or the traffic patterns, but the outcomes. Using traffic data in planning can cut down on commute times, reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality, even as it’s used to create crosswalks and bike lanes that decrease the incidents of car and truck accidents with pedestrians and cyclists. Using data intelligently can undoubtedly help us live more efficient, cleaner and safer lives.

Open data is the term used to describe making the information collected by organizations available for wider use. It is increasingly being leveraged by state government in Hawaii for the benefit of everyone interacting with government and using the services it provides, from transportation to camping in state parks to monitoring criminal activity near homes and workplaces.

The Honolulu Police Department’s crime map provides a good example of how information can be gathered, organized and put into a graphical presentation to help individual citizens become more aware of risks to their property and personal safety.

The department has taken data on various types of crimes and plotted the incidence of each criminal activity on an interactive crime map, where members of the public can enter a street address, zip code or landmark and see icons representing the crimes that have occurred in the vicinity of any location.

Open data can be especially useful when several agencies are working on the same issue. Too often, government agencies operate in silos. The challenges this creates are exemplified in collaborative planning on issues, like homelessness.

In many states and cities, officials from a variety of agencies interact with the homeless, collecting data about their situations and needs. All too often, these workers are not able to enter that information into a single database as they collect it. Instead, individual outreach workers keep their own files in systems that are not interconnected, as a rule.

A state system that many are familiar with but may not think of as an open-data operation is the Campaign Spending Commission reporting system, which provides transparency into Hawaii political campaigns. The site aggregates data on candidate contributions and expenditures, as well as making public the political donations to and expenditures by campaign organizations. The commission website gives the public access to a database that reveals who is contributing to each candidate.

Since every agency collects and maintains data, open data initiatives can be implemented to provide transparency and accountability by tracking the progress or lack of progress on government activities, from road maintenance and the rail project to education outcomes and reporting on pesticide usage.

The state maintains a website of public dashboards, Open Performance Hawaii, which provides a snapshot of how the administration and state agencies are performing. The site also provides access to data sets behind the dashboards for developers interested in developing apps and additional dashboards.

The State of Hawaii Dashboard on the Open Performance Hawaii website is a necessary step towards providing the public with information that facilitates transparency and knowledge. Unfortunately, most data on the State of Hawaii Dashboard is three to four years old, with original metrics not being updated and goals not clearly stated, making it difficult to gauge an agency’s progress.

According to its own dashboard, the state did not reach its open and transparent data targets and needs to commit more resources and work harder at both providing timely data and public dashboards in order to be truly useful and meet the open and transparent goals it espouses and that the public demands.

This is a beginning that needs to be further developed to provide a comprehensive look at progress in a range of areas.

Open data can address many challenges here in Hawaii, but it will take commitment by elected officials, public sector employees and public demand to transform the way government operates.

About the Author:
Christine Sakuda is the executive director of Transform Hawaii Government, a nonprofit organization focused on modernizing the state government’s aging IT infrastructure.

Pod Squad: Meet The Guy Who’s Trying To Modernize Hawaii Government

Hawaii’s chief information officer talks about the challenges of upgrading the state’s antiquated technology systems.

By Emilie Dugdale

Listen to full postcast on Civil Beat’s Pod Squad.

Hawaii Chief Information Officer Todd Nacapuy chats with Pod Squad host Chad Blair about going paperless, consolidating nine different email systems and modernizing payroll and tax technology in a state government that is dramatically behind the times.

Todd Nacapuy has been Hawaii’s chief information officer since May 2015.

By Anna Hrushka
Pacific Business News

Christine Sakuda, executive director of Transform Hawaii Government. Photo by Tina Yuen

Christine Sakuda, executive director of Transform Hawaii Government. Photo by Tina Yuen

Christine Sakuda was recently named executive director of Transform Hawaii Government, a nonprofit organization that supports initiatives aimed at improving the transparency, accountability and efficiency in state government.

 

Before joining THG, Sakuda was executive director of the Hawaii Health Information Exchange.

 

PBN caught up with Sakuda to discuss her goals for the five-year-old organization, which counts local business leaders such as First Hawaiian Bank Chairman and CEO Bob Harrison, Hawaii Government Employees Association Executive Director Randy Perreira and Hawaii Community Foundation CEO Micah Kane among its board members.

 

What will be the biggest challenge in taking on this new role?

The biggest challenge for me would be to make sure that the need for IT transformation within state government remains a top priority. When Transform Hawaii Government did some initial studies in about 2011, a partnership with the state at the time, it realized that state infrastructure was about 20 to 30 years behind. Therefore, it became apparent that the importance of supporting information technology transformation within state government is imperative. State services and state departments need good information to make good decisions. They share information between the departments and they also share information with the public. Technology changes at a rapid pace. The information technology plan is very important to revisit on a regular basis and ensure that we continue to meet progress.

 

How does Hawaii’s government technology infrastructure compare to other states?

In some areas, it’s made progress and in other areas it’s in the process of putting plans in place. The state right now is implementing a tax system modernization and that’s good because that’s going to impact the business community. It has accomplished statewide electronic signing of documents. The Legislature is almost completely electronic in terms of bill tracking. We’ve spent a lot of time investing in security because we’re in the middle of the Pacific and it’s important to have secure technology infrastructure. That being said, there are always areas to improve on. And those are the areas that I’m trying to understand a lot better and how THG can raise awareness on the importance of technology investment.

 

How important is it to have local business leaders on THG’s board? As leaders in their industry, I think they understand the importance of secure and responsive information systems that inform and support business priorities. The state runs like a business, too. It delivers services and it’s held accountable just like private business is held accountable. So, I think it’s very important. I do see it as an opportunity with their perspective to look for ways of establishing a greater collaboration with the state and really helping us advance this initiative. I believe that it’s important for the business community to support THG and THG to convey why that support is important. Again, the government does run businesses and services. As citizens, we all benefit from that and we benefit from an open and transparent, responsive, government just like any business.

As leaders in their industry, I think they understand the importance of secure and responsive information systems that inform and support business priorities. The state runs like a business, too. It delivers services and it’s held accountable just like private business is held accountable. So, I think it’s very important. I do see it as an opportunity with their perspective to look for ways of establishing a greater collaboration with the state and really helping us advance this initiative. I believe that it’s important for the business community to support THG and THG to convey why that support is important. Again, the government does run businesses and services. As citizens, we all benefit from that and we benefit from an open and transparent, responsive, government just like any business.