February 29, 2008 By Chad Vander Veen
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley is the force driving the state to the forefront of technology leadership. Widely regarded as a governor committed to government efficiency and openness, Riley has lent his clout to initiatives that showcase his state's technology prowess.
To help enable his vision for Alabama, Riley's administration launched the Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Responsive and Transparent (SMART) budgeting process.
"In the past, there was little logic to the budgeting process," Riley said. "The Legislature simply doled out more money to agencies each year, with a little extra for unnecessary pork projects. No one had to ask how agencies spent this money and no one had to prove their programs were effective. SMART budgeting requires each agency to set priorities and goals for improvement, along with specific outcomes that can be measured. The reports are posted on the Internet so anyone can see where every penny in every state program is going."
SMART has allowed Riley to pursue more innovative efforts. The Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators and Students Statewide (ACCESS) project, for example, is a distance learning program that uses interactive video-conferencing technology to connect teachers with students in different parts of the state.
"ACCESS levels the playing field for our students no matter where they come from," Riley said. "After starting out with 24 pilot locations in 2006, we have grown the program to 170 ACCESS distance learning labs, with includes at least one in every county."
But perhaps more than any other program Riley is credited with, Virtual Alabama shows what can be achieved with the right combination of technology and leadership.
This project, led by Riley and Alabama Department of Homeland Security director Jim Walker in partnership with Google Earth, is a first-of-its-kind undertaking: It incorporates imagery from all 67 Alabama counties, and lets local officials securely share access to statewide geographic data using Google Earth. Virtual Alabama represents the most comprehensive GIS data set in the country - something public safety officials have dreamed of for years.
"Virtual Alabama is taking government to a different level," Riley said. "It's taking access to information to a different level. We might not know the true value of this application until another major disaster occurs. Of course, we hope it never does, but when the next devastating hurricane or tornado comes through, emergency responders in Alabama will have the best tools available anywhere in the country to save lives and help people recover."
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