Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Report: most Seattle-King County taxi driver test-takers fail

by July 9th, 2012

There are more than 3,000 licensed taxi drivers driving 592 licensed taxicabs in Seattle and King County, but officials certainly aren’t passing out the required credentials like candy. Nearly two-thirds of all applicants to become taxi drivers who took a key written test last year for licensing, failed it, according to the recently released 2011 Taxicab Annual Report from the county’s Division of Records and Licensing Services. Only 37 percent of 681 taxicab driver test-takers last year passed. The passage rate by 2006 had plummeted to less than 40 percent from 60 percent in 1996, and has stayed below 40 percent since 2006.

A driver is entitled to two tries; some of those failing last year were on their second attempt. The test has two parts. One assesses geographic and other knowledge of the region. The other regards setting fares, driver conduct and regulation, driver-passenger relations, oral and written comprehension of directions, vehicle safety requirements and emergency procedures. A passing grade is at least 80 percent correct on both parts of the written exam.

WA state site has new interactive data sets on population

by July 6th, 2012

Population data for Washington cities and counties from 2010 to April 1, 2012 released in late June by the state’s Office of Financial Management is now available as a series of interactive datasets at Washington State’s official open data site, We’ve embedded the interactive datasets immediately below. To begin exploring the data, slide the horizontal scroll bar to the right. Pick a data column to re-arrange in ascending or descending order, such as “Percentage change in population, 2010-2012.” Further instructions including visual aids are below the embed.

Powered by Socrata

1,000 items, including laptops, vanish from Seattle schools

by July 5th, 2012

More than 1,000 school-owned “assets” – primarily computers, laptops, maintenance equipment, and classroom items – have been reported missing from Seattle schools since January 2009, said a Washington State Auditor’s Office report released this week. The report concluded that the school district does not have adequate procedures to keep track of equipment inventories, including keeping tabs on the dollar values of individual items of equipment. The audit also faulted the district for a lack of follow-up to find missing items and to hold employees accountable for them. The audit declared that the Seattle district owns 45,269 pieces of equipment, of which 6,964 don’t have a dollar value assigned to them. The audit also said the district lost 1,078 “assets” from January 2009 to January 2012. That included 907 missing items in an October 2011 inventory at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence building and maintenance shops. The auditor’s office was not able to provide an estimate of the total dollar value of the items, and did not go into details on the missing “assets” beyond saying they included maintenance equipment, laptops, communications gear and classroom items. One item was an iPad that a principal did not return when he left the school district.

The audit report was actually released July 2 though it was dated June 27. It stated, “It appears the District does not place a priority on inventory procedures, resulting in inadequate resources allocated to safeguarding assets. Consequently, large numbers of assets are missing, the District does not follow up to locate missing items in a timely manner, and does not hold staff accountable for missing assets assigned to their care.” The report also noted, “for example, we reviewed the most recent physical inventory at Aki Kurose Middle School on February 9, 2010, which found 77 missing assets. The fixed asset accountant sent the Principal a Missing Property Report itemizing the missing assets, and asking the Principal to research, locate, and report on them. The Principal also needed to certify the report within 30 days. As of April 2012, none of the reports were certified. Additionally, the District did not perform follow-up to locate the assets or hold the Principal accountable for them.”

The new findings on missing assets come after another state auditor’s office report in June of last year found 31 laptop computers worth $33,759 had disappeared from a Cleveland High School program, with 13 of those lost computers not reported gone in a timely manner. Twelve of the 30 students reporting missing computers received new ones without paying replacement costs or deposits for the new ones. One student lost two computers.

Medicaid fraud fixes top of mind in both Washingtons

by July 3rd, 2012

It was just weeks after Washington State enacted a landmark Medicaid anti-fraud measure, and only weeks before a U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for a sweeping federal health care bill that, as the Seattle Times reported, will boost Medicaid enrollment in Washington state by an estimated 42 percent within several years after its 2014 implementation. In other words, it was a good time for a top Washington state health care official to join national colleagues in testimony to a Congressional subcommittee that’s trying to help the federal bureaucracy and states better trace and reduce Medicaid fraud through improved data and data analytics. Douglas Porter, director of the Washington State Health Care Authority, which administers the Medicaid program here, testified recently to the Federal Financial Management Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that, “There’s a lot of data and very little good information. Poorly collected and poorly analyzed data is what’s giving us the problem. The Medicaid Statistical Information System is not uniformly reported on by all states, making apples to apples comparisons very difficult.” The hearing was titled “Saving Taxpayer Dollars by Curbing Waste and Fraud in Medicaid.”

Other challenges facing the Medicaid system, Porter testified, are the loss of staff administrative resources and outdated and ineffective Medicaid fraud detection programs that give little return on investments. In Washington state, Medicaid programs funded by the state and federal governments pay for delivery of medical, dental, behavioral health, and long-term care to an 1.2 million low-income Washingtonians on average per month. Porter in his testimony to federal lawmakers had some additional suggestions for curbing improper Medicaid payments by better sharing information on “bad actors” bilking the system; adopting common technical standards; and using distance learning.

Bellevue College seeks approval of new bachelor’s degree program in ‘Big Data’ analytics; fall 2014 start eyed

by July 2nd, 2012

For many community college students in Washington state, getting a two-year associate degree might be a ticket into the workplace. But more so than ever, advancing to a higher rank and responsibilities requires more education. So rather than merely serve as a cost-effective warm-up for further training elsewhere, some community colleges in Washington state, including one that has dropped the word “community” from its name, are stepping up with their own special “applied baccalaureate” or career-centric bachelor’s degree programs in high-demand fields which have been emphasized by regional employers during outreach efforts of educators. One such institution is Bellevue College, formerly Bellevue Community College. And as officials there have continued developing applied bachelor’s degree programs in subject areas mandated under a 2011 state budget proviso – namely, information technology, nursing, and environmental and biological sciences – they realized there was a missing piece of the equation. So in a required two-year plan for the new programs that they recently submitted to the state, Bellevue College announced its intention to add one more: Bachelor of Applied Science in Data Analytics. (See pp. 14-15 of the Bellevue College Applied Baccalaureate Degree Implementation Program).

Management requires growing analysis of “structured and unstructured” data
“Big Data is an ‘explosive’ trend,” the college says in its plan. “As large amounts of structured and unstructured data are being collected in all industry sectors, the emergence of of easy-to-use yet sophisticated analytics tools and portals is increasing rapidly…in healthcare, business, finance and other industries to increase operational efficiency and support professionals and administrators in all levels of decision-making.”

Bellevue College will form a multi-disciplinary workgroup to flesh out the new degree program and will provide a statement of need to the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges at the board’s first meeting this coming fall. The special degree program in data analytics would start in fall 2014, with the board’s okay, and would graduate its first students in spring of 2017.

WA vehicle collisions and fatalities drop notably, ’02 to ’10

by July 1st, 2012

Data from the Washington State Department of Transportation show that over the past decade there’s been a significant downwards trend in The Evergreen State’s total vehicle collisions and fatalities, even with an uptick in vehicle miles travelled. Additionally, the number of accidents per 100 million miles travelled has dropped sharply, as has the death rate. From 2002 to 2010, vehicle miles traveled increased by four percent – less than a fifth of a percent higher than nationally over the same time – while the number of collisions dropped 10.5 percent. Collisions per 100 million miles traveled declined 19.3 percent. There were 43.4 percent fewer driver fatalities in Washington state in 2010 compared to 2002, and given the increase in miles traveled, driver fatalities per 100 million miles in Washington state decreased 53.5 percent from 2002 to 2010. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show that his contrasts with a drop in the comparable U.S.-wide rate over the same stretch of 26.5 percent.

We’ve created an original visualization of the data below using the free Tableau Public tool from Seattle-based Tableau Software. We also get an analysis of the data trends from a University of Washington transportation expert.

Data visualization instructions: a) Start with the “Collision and Fatality Trends” tab view, to see color-coded data key. b) Run your mouse along lines to see individual points of data. c) You may also select different tabs for other representations of the information.

(Note: The original data included a category called “Miscellaneous Roadways” that was omitted for the purposes of this article. Consequently, total values are slightly different from the original data. Source: Washington State Department of Transportation Table TT03 on Road Usage and Safety, found in The State of Washington 2011 Databook, January 2012, Office of Financial Management)

A range of factors likely explain the decline in vehicle fatalities and accidents in Washington State, although their relative importance is difficult to determine, said Professor Mark Hallenbeck, Director of the Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington. One “has been a big push by USDOT (and consequently the state DOTs) to reduce the number of road fatalities,” he said. Hallenback also cited growing safety improvements to vehicles, “click-it or ticket” programs which enforce the use of seatbelts, and graduated driver licensing laws that allow young drivers to gain experience in a safe environment prior to being fully licensed. He added that many roads have had safety improvements, such as the addition of median barriers where there were none previously.

Public Data Ferret’s Data Visualization+Washington State archive

Other factors figure in, as well. Use of digital devices while driving is a known risk factor but hard to quantify. One study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute suggested that dialing a hand-held wireless device increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by almost three times.

Related: Q&A with Professor Mark Hallenbeck, Director, Washington State Transportation Center, University of Washington

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

Cuba smackdown of rights testifier to U.S. Senate backfires

by June 30th, 2012

Earlier this month in Cuba, peaceful political dissident Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, or “Antunez,” was jailed, beaten and pepper sprayed. This took place just three days after he testified to a U.S. Senate subcommittee about the Cuban government’s repression of citizens’ free speech rights. Though for thousands of Cuban citizens such harassment has long been common, acts of repression in Cuba burgeoned last year, according to the Cuba section of a recent global human rights report from the U.S. Department of State. In 2011, The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation counted a total of 4,123 short-term detentions, a 99 percent increase over 2010, according to the State Department report. This year’s pace is even higher, with documented political arrests in Cuba at more than 2,400 since January; 1,158 in March alone, according to testimony of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) at the subcommittee hearing earlier this month.

Gas Works Park environmental clean-up work continues

by June 29th, 2012

The next tweak in fixing Seattle Gas Works Park’s contamination problem will likely occur next fall when a half-acre tarp will be buried in the site’s northeast corner. This will be the latest measure to ensure more pollution, in this case toxic and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, won’t ooze from the park into Seattle’s Lake Union. Ultimately, all this effort will lead to cleaning up underwater sediment contaminated by old wastes from the park. In the first half of the 20th century, gas companies operated on the north shore of today’s 20-acre park site a plant that converted coal and oil into gas. The byproducts of that plant were used for a tar refinery at the same location.

A public comment period ended Friday on the latest fix-it measure, meaning the Washington Department of Ecology will review comments and plans for the next few months. John Keeling, the state’s manager for this project, speculated a contract will be signed by next fall to lay out a half-acre geofabric sheet – a plastic-like material commonly used in landscaping that will stop rainwater from seeping through – and to cover that tarp under a foot-thick layer of soil.

That measure is to prevent soil contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs – toxic and carcinogenic – from eroding into Lake Union. Here is a more detailed breakdown of the contaminants beneath park’s surface. This project will also modify the site’s drainage.

In 2000 and 2001, the state supervised putting a tarp-like covering under two feet of topsoil over much of the park to combat the rainwater that carries pollutants in the soil to the lake. The new project will tackle a spot where the extra work will slow down the seeping contaminants some more.

Public Data Ferret’s Environment archive

Meanwhile, state experts found high levels of pollutants from Gas Works Park already extending roughly 200 yards off Lake Union’s northern shore. A study is underway to determine the extent of the contamination in the lake’s sediment. The state expects actual work to begin on the new Gas Works Park soil project by October, Keeling said. A cost estimate is till up in the air.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.