umbrella organization for a coalition of 44 national organizations is sponsoring the National Alliance for Building Regulatory Reform in the Digital Age, a task force that presented their findings to the National Governor's Association in August.

"The goal is to streamline the nation's building regulatory process through innovative uses of information technology," proclaimed the organization's Executive Director Robert Wible. The group expects the regulatory coming together will enhance "the public's social and economic well-being through safe, durable and efficient buildings for living, working and recreation."

Since that can be difficult to measure, some more concrete action items were developed, including the reduction of regulatory processing time by 60 percent. By February 2002, the NCSBCS Tech Task Force hopes to create a list of hardware and software available and itemize the cost of adopting, training and creating interoperability. At the same time, it is collecting a list of the basic laws in all states and, by June of that year, hopes to develop language for legislation that will allow multi-jurisdictional streamlined building regulatory processes. Funding for all this data collection will come from the members - U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Partnership of Advancing Technology in Housing, International Alliance for Interoperability, National Institute of Standards and Technology and National Institute of Building Sciences and public and private grants.

Already the group has collected 52 examples of best practices of technology applications. CodeBuddy, from Carl Mileff & Associates, a building code consulting company in Fresno, Calif., makes the building code process user-friendly by keeping everyone involved in a project up-to-date on the latest code changes and showing the impact of each regulation in an easy-to-understand format.

Another California-based software, Smart Permit, which is supported by Joint Venture: Silicon Valley, goes one step farther than "paving the cow path" as some have described the effort to repackage the hodge-podge of code. In addition to categorizing and explaining existing code, the nonprofit organization has gathered together chief building officials from 27 Bay Area cities and two counties and reduced the local amendments from 400 to 11 while including strict seismic standards. Using this simplified set of rules, the two pilot cities, Sunnyvale and San Carlos, have pledged to get building inspectors involved earlier in the process. The program was a finalist in the Innovations in American Government Awards competition and is seen as a model that could work in other places where moving quickly is essential.

Aldona Valicenti, CIO of Kentucky and past president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, is convinced that finding a way to move information quickly is an important part of the answer. Her office was already working on a system to streamline the exchange of data for the Department of Justice when she was asked by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) if the same systems could help in the regulatory process without investing in new infrastructure. "Every state reviews buildings. If we could just get them all to agree on what they are looking for, we wouldn't have a bottleneck, something we can't tolerate in one of the most viable sectors in the nation," she said.

If things work out the way the GASB hopes it will, local governments could end up agreeing not only on what they will inspect, but the codes their bookkeeping will be measured by.

J.T. Long  |  Contributing Writer