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LBJ School Student Research Calls for Open-Source Data, Better Transparency in Texas State Finance

Students from The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin will present research that calls for open-source data and better transparency in Texas state and local finance at a half-day conference April 23.

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Students from The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin will present research that calls for open-source data and better transparency in Texas state and local finance at a half-day conference April 23.

The conference, “Texas Financial Transparency: Open and Online,” is the culmination of a yearlong research project conducted by LBJ School students. In addition to providing students a forum to present their research, the conference will function as a call to action to government officials, the media and the public sector to initiate a shift in the ways in which Texas government finances are made available and transparent online.

LBJ School Lecturer Sherri Greenberg, former Texas state representative and now Center for Politics and Governance fellow, led the project with LBJ School Senior Lecturer Gary Chapman. According to Greenberg, the conference will highlight “best practices” and will make recommendation to enhance the financial transparency of Texas state and local government.

“This conference is based on a research project that came about as a result of the ever-increasing interest surrounding the issue of government transparency,” said Greenberg. “Our contribution will be in the area of state and local finance transparency. President Barack Obama put special emphasis on transparency when he made it the topic of his first executive order in January 2009, and it is our aim to urge the state government of Texas to shift from the conventional proprietary data formats to a ‘one stop shop’ model for finance reporting.”

According to Olivia Travieso, a first-year master of public affairs student, the project was an educational experience, bridging the gap between theory and practice in a way that could truly affect the issue of online transparency.

“This was learning by doing, by digging in and tackling the issue first hand,” said Travieso. “We had complete ownership of the this project and shaped its direction from day one.”

In addition to pulling speakers from the community, government, media and interest groups to lend their voice to the discussion, the students intend to issue their final report, which outlines several recommendations on how to streamline and reformat state and local finance transparency.

“Our final report includes many detailed recommendations,” said Travieso. “We would like to see online financial transparency be more centrally located, in other words, a one-stop-shop. We want the data to be presented in a more organized and user-friendly format, and we want the data to be open-source.”

According to Travieso, Texas has made great strides in the area of financial transparency.

“Texas continues to be one of the leaders in financial information available online,” said Travieso. “However, the presence of information does not equal transparency. There is still much that can be done to ensure that the available data are as useful and as open to the public as possible.”

This is the second conference in a series hosted by the LBJ School exploring the renewal of accountability through transparency in government and the role of the Internet as articulated in the Freedom of Information Act and the Transparency and Open Government Memoranda, the very first official presidential memoranda issued by President Obama in 2009. The first conference, led by Chapman, was held in May 2009 and focused on the role of the Internet in accountability and transparency.

Opening the April 23 conference will be LBJ School Dean Robert Hutchings. Featured speakers include Dustin Haisler, assistant city manager of the City of Manor, Texas; Ethan Zuckerman, fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and Victor Gonzalez, director of innovation and chief technology officer for the Office of the Texas Comptroller.

A community panel titled “Financial Transparency in Action” will feature Eva DeLuna Castro, senior budget analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities; James Quintero, fiscal policy analyst for the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Fiscal Policy; Matt Stiles, reporter for the Texas Tribune; Dustin Lanier, director for the Council of Competitive Governments for the Office of the Texas Comptroller, and Brenda Bell, reporter for the Austin American-Statesman.

The LBJ School of Public Affairs, the Center for Politics and Governance, and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas sponsor the conference

For more information on the conference, including a link to register for the event, visit www.utexas.edu/lbj/cpg/event_detail.php?id=53