Magazine article Government Finance Review

Using the Web to Increase Transparency and Accountability

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Using the Web to Increase Transparency and Accountability

Article excerpt

Virginia Beach is located in the southeastern portion of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The city was established in 1963 through a merger of the resort town of Virginia Beach and Princess Anne County. It is the most populous city in Virginia, with an estimated 2005 population of 437,206.

In the last decade, the City of Virginia Beach recognized the potential of utilizing the Internet to enhance the delivery of services to its citizens. In 1990, the city launched an electronic bulletin board service known as the Services and Information Directory (SID). SID contained content from city departments and documents highlighting city services and information. In 1996, SID became the content basis for the city's first Web site, www.virginia-beach.va.us. At that time, a local government Web site was a rare entity. The site continued to grow and evolve throughout the late 1990s as its traffic and popularity increased. On March 17, 2000, Mayor Meyera E. Oberndorf established the Mayor's Special Advisory Commission on e-Government to "advise the mayor, city council and various city government departments as to how numerous techniques, technologies, functions and services of e-government might best be considered, adopted, and integrated into the operating structure of Virginia Beach." Out of this commission was born www.VBgov.com, the city's Web portal. VBgov.com was designed to provide online services and interactivity structured around the needs of the citizens and businesses of the city. The site was designed to break down the departmental and bureaucratic barriers to effective communication and interaction with the city's constituents across the Web. Today, the City of Virginia Beach's Web presence is a multi-award winning site recognized as one of the leaders in the application of e-government at the local level.

VBGOV.COM: INCREASING GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY

VBgov.com is structured to provide access to all areas of city government operations as well as other useful information for citizens, the business community and visitors to the city. Access is provided to all city departments, departmental services, and historical information and related links are provided to other sources of information.

A good relationship between local government and its citizens is a long-sought-after goal. By adhering to the principles of transparency and accountability local government can enhance its relationship with its citizen base. According to Wikipedia, "Accountability is an important factor in securing good governance and, thus, the legitimacy of public power. Accountability differs from transparency in that it only enables negative feedback after a decision or action, while transparency also enables negative feedback before or during a decision or action. Accountability constrains the extent to which elected representatives and other office holders can willfully deviate from their theoretical responsibilities, thus reducing corruption."

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Accountability is the obligation to answer for the execution of assigned responsibilities. Government must be held to the highest accounting for how it collects, allocates, spends, and treats its financial assets. The City of Virginia Beach is dedicated to the principal of good stewardship and therefore strives to demonstrate its accountability to all of its citizens routinely.

In 2003, GFOA recommended "every government publish its budget documents and its CAFR on the government's Web site" (See the entire GFOA Recommended Practice at www.gfoa.org/services/rp/caafr/caafr-budgets-to-websites.pdf.) When posting these documents, GFOA recommended complying with the following guidelines:

* The electronic budget document and the electronic CAFR should be identical to the printed versions of these documents.

* The Web site should prominently notify users that the information in the CAFR has not been updated for developments subsequent to the date of the independent auditor's report. …

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