Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Best Practices’ Category

Politiwidgets lets you embed data on U.S. officeholders

by Matt Rosenberg October 3rd, 2011

Whether you write online about public affairs or are just doing some due diligence on an officeholder, Politiwidgets is a government transparency toolset worth exploring. Developed by technologists at the non-profit Sunlight Foundation in Washington, D.C., Politiwidgets let you embed easy-to-read graphics of performance and contextual data on members of the U.S. Congress and Senate into online articles, blog posts or social media entries. The data are all drawn from first-rate cited sources, to which links are provided.

Widgets can be customized to different sizes/Poliwidgets

At Politiwidgets, each member of Congress or the Senate has their own page with a range of data in several categories. Here are the Politiwidgets main pages of all Washington state U.S. Representatives and Senators. The first feature is their “business card” which includes contact information, plus a link to their Web site and social media accounts. Getting into the data, you can see how many bills a legislator has sponsored versus how many of those have been enacted, and how those figures compare to the average for legislators in their chamber. You can also review and compare the records of legislators on how many earmarks – appropriations which are directed to specific recipients – they have have won approval of, again versus the average for legislators in their chamber.

Other legislator data at Politiwidgets includes voting records, campaign contributions, top contributors, interest group ratings, top U.S. government contractors in their district, and district map.

I’ll demo Poliwidgets by showing the most recent full-year earmarks data for each member of the Washington state delegation. U.S. Rep. Jamie Herrera (R-3) isn’t included because she was just elected last November, and there’s no data reported for her yet in that category at Politiwidgets. I’ve used the earmarks widget for U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-9) (above) to show a different size option than those below and to illustrate that with a bit of elementary code you can embed the widgets neatly in text, and add a caption.

The Sunlight Foundation invites active bloggers on public policy and politics who’ve used Politiwidgets to share their feedback in an online survey.

Medicare’s improper payments totaled $48 billion-plus in 2010

by Matt Rosenberg August 3rd, 2011

SUMMARY: In recent testimony to a U.S. House subcommittee, officials of the Government Accountability Office reported that improper payments in 2010 for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Medicare program totaled at least $48 billion, or 38 percent of the total by U.S. agencies. This includes overpayments, underpayments, unnecessary services, and coding and calculation mistakes; but the reporting system is not designed to detect Medicare fraud. The sub-total also does not include improper payments under Medicare prescription drug benefit, for which 2010 estimates were not provided by HHS. GAO stressed that it has made five key recommendations to HHS to better control Medicare improper payments, but that implementation is incomplete. Medicare’s $48 billion in improper payments for 2010 rose $12.6 billion from the total of $35.4 billion in 2009, or 26 percent.

Legislative audit: benefits of Washington state’s green buildings not clear

by Kyle Kim July 7th, 2011

SUMMARY: The benefits of Washington state’s push for environmentally friendlier public buildings remain unclear, according to a legislative report. The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee’s High Performance Public Buildings report revealed they could not completely assess the program because state agencies and some school districts are failing to report information as required by law. Where a full year’s performance data was available by the reporting deadline, most high-performance buildings exceeded their estimated energy usage due to factors such as changes in design or equipment, difficulties in operating “new and complex energy technology,” greater than anticipated after-hours use of the buildings, and energy wasting by occupants such as covering vents. The committee recommended more time to measure performance and better agency compliance on submitting energy performance data.

City Auditor: Seattle legal and liability claims total nearly $75 million over four years

by Melissa Steffan July 1st, 2011

SUMMARY: A recent City of Seattle Auditor’s report found that over a four-year period, from 2007 to 2010, the City of Seattle spent nearly $30 million to settle lawsuits filed against it. This accounts for 39 percent of the total $74,767,406 spent by the City of Seattle to cover legal judgments and financial claims against it during that time. The annual total continues to trend downward from a recent high in 2008. The auditor’s report recommended several strategies including stronger leadership and employee involvement, a focus on root causes of financial risk, and regular collection and analysis of data.

State agency overpaid $13.7 million for drugs in ‘09-’10

by Matt Rosenberg May 10th, 2011

SUMMARY: According to a performance audit released last week, Washington state’s Department of Labor and Industries through 2010 paid an overly generous reimbursement rate to pharmacists for prescriptions of generic drugs to injured workers covered under its Workers’Compensation program. The audit finds that if L&I had paid for generics at a rate similar to other state health care agencies, it could have saved at least $13.7 million in 2009 and 2010 combined, and as much as $15.4 million. L&I lowered its generics reimbursement rate to a more comparable level in 2011; saving nearly $5 million compared to 2009. But by bringing that and its reimbursement rate for brand-name drug prescriptions into more complete alignment with the standard-setting state Health Care Authority, L&I could achieve another $1.5 million to $2.3 million in annual savings, going forward.