City Council Audit and Finance Committee Meeting (link)
Date: Wed, Aug 28, 2013
Time: 10:00 am
Location: Austin City Hall, Room 1101, 301 W 2nd St, Austin, TX 78701 (link)
[Aug 28 update: Exciting news -- the City of Austin has issued its long-awaited Open Government Directive. We are expecting to hear more at the meeting today.]
This City of Austin has conducted a performance audit of the Open Government initiative. The results will be presented this Wednesday morning, to the City Council Audit and Finance Committee. The meeting is open to the public. We request local open government and civic technology supporters attend, to show support for these issues.
We are concerned that the City of Austin Open Government Initiative, launched nearly two years ago, has faltered, and is on the brink of failure.
In December 2011, the City Council passed a resolution directing the City Manager to develop an Open Government Framework, including timelines and budget requirements. Now, nearly two years later, the framework has not been done and we have seen no recent signs of activity. The budget requirements called for have never been developed, even though we are now going through the second budget cycle since the resolution was passed.
In 2012, Austin hosted a Code for America fellowship, and three fellows were assigned to our city. They produced two significant apps: one to help mitigate risks from wildfire (prepared.ly) and another to relieve animal shelter space by helping get recovered pets back to their owners (Stray Mapper). Both apps have failed. prepared.ly is not being maintained and has not been activated this current wildfire season. Stray Mapper has never been deployed, even though, this summer, the animal shelter has declared an overcrowding crisis — which is the circumstance this app was designed to help alleviate.
The flow of information on the open data portal (data.austintexas.gov) has slowed to a trickle. The city produces hundreds — if not thousands — of new public datasets each year, but they are not getting released. In the past 30 days, only nine new datasets have been added — and that’s higher than recent months. One department (Budget and Finance) did a large release of eight new datasets, which accounts for nearly all the activity.
In August 2012, we foresaw the need for leadership to move this initiative forward. We proposed the creation of a high level Civic Innovation Office. The City Council approved $250K funding to pilot this initiative. Yet nearly a year later, the office is still unstaffed, and the first personnel requisition was issued just this month.
Even worse, city management has not allowed the community to participate in the development of the program, and has redirected the effort away from the civic and community vision we advocate, to an office that supports internal city processes and functions. While we certainly support the City Manager trying to bring innovation to internal city processes, we do not support his efforts to take funds allocated for one mission — a mission advocated by the public and approved by the City Council — and apply them to something entirely different.
We anticipate that the performance audit will document the lack of progress on the Open Government initiative, and we hope it provides guidance to get the program back on track.
We plan to attend the Wednesday meeting, to present our ideas on how to do that. We hope you can attend, and add your support for open government and civic technology.