Nassau County, N.Y.’s Big Push to Win Back Hearts and Minds

The New York City-adjacent county now has a number of initiatives and other new systems in place aimed at bolstering transparency and accountability following years of questions related to integrity.

by / May 3, 2019

Upon assuming office as the Nassau County, N.Y., executive in 2018, one of Laura Curran’s top priorities was to build more transparency and accountability into the jurisdiction.

Nassau County is home to nearly 1.4 million residents, situated in western Long Island beside the New York City borough of Queens. In recent years, the jurisdiction has had some controversy in its local government stemming from malfeasance by elected officials. Specifically, the county executive that proceeded Curran, Ed Mangano, was convicted in March in the wake of a 13-count federal indictment related to fraud and bribery. Curran, who said she doesn’t like to focus on the county’s past troubles, is now using a number of tech-based projects to push forward and foster more transparency and accountability.

“When I ran for office I knew it was very important to deliver on the promise of transparency, making sure that it was up to us now to win back the trust of the people,” Curran said. “The trust really was frayed. You can talk about transparency and accountability, but you have to do concrete things to show people you’re serious about this.”

The concrete things that Curran is doing now are wide-ranging, to be sure, including many that aren’t related to technology at all, such as signing an executive order that prohibited her from giving jobs to anyone who’d donated to her campaign. What’s happening in Nassau County involves technology being used as part of a unified philosophy around bolstering the governmental investment in transparency and accountability.

This has resulted in a number of tangible projects in just the first nearly year and a half she has been in office. In conjunction with the office of the comptroller, the county has launched a new open checkbook, which details more than a billion dollars of annual county outside expenditures in an easy-to-read format.

The county has rolled out an 18-month pilot program partnership with the private company Exiger. This partnership gives the county access to the company’s Insight 3PM platform, which streamlines due diligence vendor research to help the county spot red flags that might be related to a conflict of interest.

Not all of the work with tech to prevent malfeasance is that complicated, though. In fact, some of it is as simple as moving from paper-based to digital workflows. Curran said that when she first took office there were many vital documents being kept on paper and filed away in cardboard boxes, sometimes in a basement.

These things included the financial disclosure forms required of county employees. They were being filled out on paper and filed away in physical containers, a format that inherently makes them easy to forget about and very difficult to search.

“People would have to dig through reams of paper to find this contract or that agreement,” Curran said. “Now with a click of a button, it’s right there.”

Moving forward, the county is working on a way to enable vendors to track where they are in the governmental procurement process. This is part of a larger idea to simplify the procurement process in general, bolster competition among the companies that the local government works with, and also open the doors to smaller, more agile companies like tech startups.

Nassau County is far from alone in using digital tools in this way. In fact, it is part of a larger movement of jurisdictions that are putting an increasing amount of governmental business online, where it can be more easily accessed by both the public and other internal agencies. As this software has become cheaper and easier to develop or use, the prevalence of it in local government has gone up, thereby enabling counties like Nassau to combat long-standing accountability challenges with tech.

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.