Thursday, April 21, 2011

New App Turns Your Phone into a Whistle

I have a lot of silly and pointless applications (or "apps") on my smart phone. Some are remarkably useful. Most are just distracting drains on the battery. But imagine the transformative possibilities of a phone app that allows you, as an alert citizen and taxpayer, to instantly blow the whistle on the government waste, fraud and mismanagement that you see first-hand as you go about your daily lives.

No more need to complain to a hard-to-reach council member or commissioner. No more getting bounced from bureaucrat to bureaucrat, in search of someone in charge. No more calling into a"hotline" that no one ever answers. Just punch a button and report what you see, as a citizen-watchdog, knowing that the report -- and the accompanying video -- will reach someone who might actually do something about it.

The city of Philadelphia is experimenting with just such a concept, reports the Philadelphia Daily News, a smart phone application, dubbed the PhillyWatchdog, that "that allows citizens to report fraud or government misconduct directly to the controller's fraud unit."

"City Controller Alan Butkovitz yesterday unveiled an iPhone app that allows citizens to report fraud or government misconduct directly to the controller's fraud unit.

"Our Philly WatchDog app allows citizens to play a crucial role in protecting their tax dollars by reporting fraud, waste and abuse," Butkovitz said during a news conference.

Using the application, available for free through iTunes or the App Store on the iPhone, residents can report sightings of fraud or city workers goofing off and send in pictures or videos. Messages can be sent anonymously.

Butkovitz said that the app, which the office developed for $5,400, is the first of its kind in the nation. Butkovitz and his staff said that residents might capture examples of bribery by city workers, or city workers napping on taxpayers' time.

The office gets between 75 and 100 such reports from citizens each year, but the app certainly could boost that number."

The story doesn't say what happens to reports or tips that don't rise to the level of fraud. But how useful would this potentially be for a city manager or mayor who us seriously interested in weeding-out waste, improving city services or just keeping city employees on their toes? It potentially turns every citizen into a deputy watchdog, providing city officials with hundreds of extra eyes and ears out on the streets. It's affordable, empowering and gives average people a stake in the improvement of their government. And it's something we could easily and affordably do in Colorado Springs.

The city auditor's office already has a waste and fraud hotline. But that's so 1950s and too few people even know it exists. Adding a higher-tech twist would be a good opportunity to re-launch and republicize the effort, while highlighting the important work this often-overlooked city office does.

The first mayoral candidate to add the creation of a "Springs Watchdog" phone app to his campaign platform can claim all the credit. That he read it here first will be our little secret.

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