Government Helps Itself

New financial disclosure application makes life easier for county officials.

by / August 3, 2004
With the main thrust of e-government initiatives exploring ways to offer services to the public via the Internet, Montgomery County, Md., also found ways to address needs of its other customers -- employees and associates.

The county implemented an online filing system for financial disclosure statements. Certain county employees, boards, committees and commissions are required to file statements annually, within 15 days of employment and before separation from the county in accordance with the county's public ethics law.

Historically this has been a paper process met with little enthusiasm by filers. The long and detailed paper forms were distributed ad hoc by supervisors, who were then required to collect the forms, review them and pass them to the county's Ethics Commission for review and filing.

The process was labor intensive for the commission and supervisors, and required a coordinated effort with the print shop to mass-produce and distribute the forms.

"The burden on our office in the distribution, tracking and collection of these forms has been all but alleviated," said Ethics Commission Executive Secretary Barbara McNally. "The majority of the county's 1,300 filers have opted to use the Financial Disclosure System. As a result, we are better able to track compliance rates. We no longer archive a tremendous amount of paper forms."

Birth of a System
In 2002, the county launched its Financial Disclosure On-line Filing System, allowing employees to file and maintain financial disclosure statements via the Web. The application was recently rewritten to include functions such as copying the previous year's filing information and single sign-on technology, making filing and reviewing disclosure statements even more convenient.

From an administrative point of view, the county administers password policy via Microsoft Active Directory, which is also used as a roles and permissions repository.

The decision to put the filing process online resulted in an improved process overall. Filers were specifically identified, the form was revised and the routing process detailed. The result is an online filing system that allows users to file and maintain statements via any Web browser. Statements are automatically routed to supervisors for review and forwarded to the Ethics Commission.

The reporting format allows filers to easily bypass sections not relevant to their situation. The final printable form averages two pages; the former paper document was an average of 10 pages. Filers can complete the forms in more than one sitting by storing and retrieving responses. Previous filings are also stored and accessible -- after the initial filing, users just update their responses from the previous year, which cuts filing time considerably.

Going Strong
In its third year, the Financial Disclosure On-line Filing System has been warmly welcomed by filers and the county Ethics Commission alike.

"[This] system transformed what was once a tedious and unpleasant task taking hours to a convenience taking only a few minutes," said Zelinda Fouant, a county employee and long-time filer.

Montgomery County continues to identify new information and services to place on its Web portal. The focus thus remains on those who live, work and play in Montgomery County -- government employees included.
Renee Kirsch Contributing Writer