Jim Burns was hired by Alabama Gov. Bob Riley in 2004 as part of the governor's drive toward creating a more open state government. In his final term as governor, Riley wanted to make Alabama state government data the most accessible in the nation. A cornerstone of that initiative is a new openness Web portal, which Burns spearheaded. Prior to working for the state, Burns was the department director of Information Technology and Communications for Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
What's the story behind the recent launch of Alabama's new transparency Web portal?
Open.alabama.gov, officially launched on Oct. 1, 2009. It features a lot of openness that we haven't had in Alabama before. Gov. Bob Riley mandated that we do this, he wanted the state's checkbook online. It has every transaction where an individual or a company has been paid money [by the state].
All of the state's leases are shown on the site on a map; lease data can be sorted by county, city or geography. It shows the value of the leased property, when the lease is up and who the [lessee] is.
The portal also has what I'd say is the most open information about a governor's office in the nation. Gov. Riley's every expense is listed, all the way down to office supplies. [Citizens] can also see the governor's flight logs - where he went, why he went there and who went with him.
What else does the site offer citizens?
One can look up our prior spending through consolidated annual fiscal reports and our planned spending through planning documents from our executive planning office. You get a complete picture: what we have spent, what we're spending and what we're planning to spend. The governor says he'd like all 4.7 million citizens of Alabama to audit the books.
What were the challenges involved in making the state transparent so quickly?
We were fortunate in that a lot of the parts to this were already available in some fashion, because the governor has wanted openness in government. We had all the components to do it; we just never had them all available in a single portal.
Does this help in terms of efficiency? Citizens finding information on the Web rather than calling to ask?
Absolutely. And there's another component: the Open Meeting. If there's a meeting you're interested in, as a citizen or businessperson, and you'd like to know when it's going to be, Alabama law requires that those meetings are posted and available [online].
Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.