Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Open Government’ Category

State Auditor: Douglas County PUD worker stole $12K in fuel

by October 11th, 2011

Chelan County Deputy Prosecutor Doug Shae said today a pre-trial settlement involving full restitution is likely in the case of a Douglas County Public Utility District employee whoaccording to a fraud investigation report released last week by the Washington State Auditor’s Office defrauded the PUD of at least $12,384.68 by using its fuel credit cards to repeatedly buy gas for his private vehicle over a stretch of more than four years.

Politiwidgets lets you embed data on U.S. officeholders

by 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.

State Auditor: manager defrauded UW Med Center of $252,059

by August 29th, 2011

SUMMARY: Echoing criminal charges already filed in King County Superior Court, a fraud investigation report issued today by the office of Washington State Auditor Brian Sontag and addressed to new UW President Michael Young says a former manager at the University of Washington Medical Center used his work credit card, work travel account and unearned paid leave to defraud his employer of more than $250,000. A police raid on his apartment turned up dozens of personal items paid for with the work credit card, including furniture, artwork and consumer electronics. The University’s policies allowed him to approve his own expenditures. In today’s auditor’s report, the University states it has since put new safeguards in place, and is in the process of recovering the money lost. The employee, Elisha Lang, had previously been terminated and later admitted to personal use of the work credit card. Criminal charges against him are already pending, as reported by The Seattle Times. According to information provided today by the King County Prosecutor’s Office, Lang’s attorneys appear in court Wednesday August 31 and are expected to either set a trial date or request a continuance for more time to negotiate a settlement. Lang pled not guilty at an April court appearance, after 19 charges of felony theft were filed against him.

Results of Seattle Police watchdog agency’s 2010 excessive force probes: 120 allegations, but no smoking guns found

by August 19th, 2011

According to information obtained by Public Data Ferret from the Seattle Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability, OPA in 2010 completed 77 investigations into use of force complaints against SPD personnel, including 120 related allegations, and none of the cases or allegations resulted in a finding of “sustained,” meaning supported by a preponderance of evidence. Investigations of some high profile cases in 2010 such as the SPD shooting of the late John T. Williams, and the resulting determination of excessive force, weren’t resolved until 2011, and so are not included in the 2010 findings.

Overall, reported cases involving allegations of unnecessary force, or other force-related complaints such as failure to report use of force, are a tiny fraction of all police activity. SPD officials disclosed that department personnel had a total of 454,564 public contacts in 2010, including almost 200,000 dispatched calls, more than 140,000 “on view” interactions in communities, more than 90,000 traffic stops, and 22,883 arrests.

In response to an information request by Public Data Ferret on excessive force cases and allegations for which investigations were completed in 2010, the findings provided by OPA’s Civilian Director Kathryn Olsen were:

  • In 73 of the 120 allegations, police were exonerated (a preponderance of evidence suggests the conduct alleged did occur, but it was determined to be justified, lawful and proper);
  • 31 of the 120 allegations were unfounded (evidence suggests the alleged act did not occur as reported, or the report was false);
  • seven allegations were administratively exonerated or administratively unfounded (complaint is significantly flawed, i.e. recanted by complainant, wrong employee identified);
  • one was administratively inactivated (investigation can’t proceed due to insufficient information or another pending investigation);
  • one went to mediation (complainant and officer agree to resolution by credentialed third-party mediator);
  • two earned supervisory interventions (there may have been a violation of policy, but it wasn’t willful, and/or didn’t amount to misconduct);
  • five were classified as not sustained (allegation of misconduct is neither proved nor disproved by a preponderance of the evidence).

These results dovetail with data on the previous year of 2009, when 105 investigations into excessive use of force by Seattle Police, including 318 specific allegations, were completed, and no allegations were sustained.

Public Eye Northwest’s Guide To Open Access Journals

by July 27th, 2011

(Last updated April 24, 2012). Open access journals. Open science. Remember those terms. You’ll be hearing more of them in coming months and years.

There’s a growing but often hidden body of peer-reviewed scholarly research being conducted in the U.S. (and other nations) by researchers working for government and publicly-funded universities, particularly in the sciences and public health. Some of it appears online in government reports available free to all. But all too often when leading-edge research on important issues and problems in which we all have a stake does appear online, it is hidden behind the pay-walls of professional and academic journals, making it inaccessible and unaffordable to the general public and many writers working in legacy and new media. This is particularly problematic when the research is funded on the public dime. An “abstract” or short summary is all you get for free.

However change is in the air. More peer-reviewed, publicly-funded scholarly research is beginning to show up online and in full, in what are called “open access” journals – which operate on the principle that free distribution of this work is vital to the public interest.

So is accurately translating that work into Plain English, admittedly not always easy. Which is were outfits like ours come in. Our Open Science archive at Public Data Ferret gives a good indication of what’s at stake.

  • Does manadatory menu labeling at large fast food restaurant chains actually compel healthier choices by customers, as King County supposed it would?
  • What about that indoor public smoking ban Washington state voters approved. Did it spell ruination for bars and taverns, as some in the industry predicted?
  • Did a gift incentive program cut high-risk behavior by AIDS-prone Seattle men?
  • How effective was one strategy to try to get more dentists to locate in underserved regions of Washington state?
  • How did a Seattle-Nairobi research team develop a better AIDS tests for African infants?
  • What caused the Haitian cholera epidemic?
  • How serious is Internet addiction among college students, what are its effects and how can the problem be addressed by health professionals? A study including University of Washington students provides some insight.
  • Is highway tolling fair to low-income households in the Seattle region? A University of Washington public affairs and social equity expert takes a close look.
  • What is the effect of vehicle air pollution on birth weight?

To help foster wider sharing of important scholarly research, and in line with the work of our parent organization Public Eye Northwest, we’re establishing a resource page here of selected “open access” journals, and related online resource guides featuring links to many others. Using basic search methods at all of the individual journals, you can locate published work specific to time, place, institution and topic.


Directory of Open Access Journals
E-Scholarship, University of California
Free Medical Journals
Open Access Journals Search Engine
Public Knowledge Project – Open Access Journals Directory
PubMed search engine, National Institutes of Health
PubMedCentral Journal List, National Institutes of Health
U.S. Centers For Disease Control – Publications
University of Washington Libraries – “Research Works” Archive, 2011


Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture
Annals of Gastroenterology
Asia Journal of Global Studies
BioMed Central
Bulletin of the World Health Organization
Ecology and Society
Environmental Health Perspectives, National Institute of Environmental Health Science
Information Technologies and International Development
Journal of Family Medicine
Journal of Academic Freedom, American Association of University Professors
Journal of Aging Research
Journal of Emerging Technologies In Web Intelligence
Journal of Transport and Land Use
Library Journal
Malaria Journal
Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights
PLoS One: Accelerating The Publication Of Peer-Reviewed Science
PLoS Medicine, Public Library of Science
Urban Library Journal

Please send links to other open access journals or compendiums of same to matt (at) publiceyenorthwest (dot) org. A friendly warning: there are a welter of sites claiming to index open access journals or open access journal compendiums. But due diligence should precede a recommendation. Does the internal search engine at each open access journal return much that’s of worth on a given topic (pick a major disease, for example). How recent are the articles? Do the referenced journals follow the peer-review process? With what institutions are the authors affiliated? Are the so-called open access journals or university open access hubs really open access? Or is access to text of full articles actually still restricted in many cases?

Donate to our tax-exempt parent non-profit, Public Eye Northwest.

Puyallup construction company wins $35 million defense contract

by July 25th, 2011

The U.S. Department of Defense announced recently that Puyallup, Wash. company Absher Construction has won a $35,275,888 contract from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Honolulu, to build an enlisted personnel housing facility at the U.S. Army’s Schofield Barracks in Oahu, Hawaii. The barracks are a 102-year-old installation and home to the Army’s 25th Infantry Division. The company will construct two five-story buildings, each with 100 dwelling units. Absher will work in conjunction with Tetra Tech, of Seattle, the project architect. Absher’s Web site says the total project cost is $74 million. This is not the first U.S. defense contract for Absher. The company has won several separate contracts of more than $40 million apiece to build barracks at Fort Lewis in Pierce County, Wash. and is currently working on a $71 million Bachelors Enlisted Quarters and Parking Facility at Naval Station Kitsap in Bremerton, Wash.

The Department of Defense’s military contract announcements database reveals more.