The Tennessee state legislature faces a problem common to many governing bodies around the country: paper, paper and more paper created from the dozens of bills each legislator must keep track of at a given time.
To help remedy that, the Tennessee Office of Legislative Systems with the Tennessee Division of NIC created a new application called The Dashboard that takes all the state’s bills, including their corresponding notes, comments and research, and puts them on an application that can be accessed via mobile device.
“We found our legislators and their staff were carrying around these massive binders with information on bills that were not only hard to transport, but took time to create,” said Vinay Dattu, the IT director for the Office of Legislative Systems. “We wanted to find something to solve that problem that was not only easier, but would provide a strong ROI.”
Dattu estimated that the state used about one million pieces of paper each year in the legislature and 1,000 man-hours to handle the volume. That is all taxpayer money that can be put to better use, along with saving about 3,000 pine trees per year, he said.
Now, Tennessee state legislators simply go to this new online dashboard. In addition to telling legislators the given day’s meetings, the online dashboard also lets legislators drill down to proposed amendments, fiscal notes and actions taken.
All of the bill information is updated real-time as it moves through the process of becoming law, so documents and actions appear on the dashboard just seconds after the gavel drops. No information is downloaded, but it’s updated automatically.
The goal was to create something that was simple to use, Dattu explained, because of the varying levels of technical ability among the state’s legislators. The idea was not to just put everything in an online portal but rather create a system that would be as user-friendly as possible while also solving a problem.
Kelly Berg, the director of operations for the Tennessee Division of NIC, told StateScoop the company built the application from scratch as no other states from around the country – or at least those within the NIC universe of portals – had undertaken such a project.
Dattu believes it’s the first such project within state governments in the United States and it’s hard to image that the app will not quickly spread throughout the country as other state legislative bodies – and the U.S. Congress – could use some variation of it.
Dattu points to the return on investment of the project, which cost about $20,000 in taxpayer money to create. In its first year, the application saved $25,000 in manpower and $6,000 in paper. The Tennessee State House and more departments will be using it next year, so the savings is projected to triple.
In the next five years, Dattu said the app could end up bringing more than $800,000 in savings to the state.
“We wanted something that not only made things easier for our legislators, but had a financial value as well,” Dattu said. “By creating this, I think we’ve been able to do that.”