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How Oregon’s ‘Super-Agency’ Approach to Transparency Benefits Local Governments and Empowers Citizens

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Overview of Oregon’s Portal

The work of building contractors often spans multiple towns and counties, requiring multiple permits. Like many professionals working across jurisdictions, contractors long to see a single portal view of their permit applications for all the places they work, and to know the status of their applications.

But in most states, securing permits requires navigating a complex maze of Web sites (or even paper-based processes), then tackling a range of user interfaces for applications and payment, and finally awaiting confirmation that inspections have been scheduled and permits granted. The entire process can take a lot of time and increase the margin of error – often delaying projects, frustrating users, and ultimately reducing much-needed revenue collection.

At the same time, the costs and resources required to launch e-permitting functionality can be daunting to many local governments – especially those lacking a genuine IT staff.

Enter the State of Oregon, where the Department of Consumer and Business Services (DCBS) has delivered exactly the kind of centralized, intuitive and transparent user experience that contractors want – and the cost-effective, customizable deployment model that local governments need. The DCBS portal is a true “one-stop shop” that allows customers to:

  • determine which permits are required in different jurisdictions;
  • apply and pay for them in a single “shopping cart”;
  • and access a status of their inspections and authorizations at any time.

The DCBS portal is now providing e-permitting services on behalf of dozens of municipal building departments across the State. In addition, the portal serves as a kind of “permits 411” resource, allowing citizens to find answers for nearly any question pertaining to permits in Oregon.

In this presentation, Patrick Allen, Administrator of Oregon’s Building Codes Division, and Maury Blackman, CEO of Accela, Inc. will detail the State’s approach and goals, highlight elements of the user experience, and discuss the technology underpinnings that bring it all together. In short, they will demonstrate why this “super-agency” approach is paving the way for a new era of citizen interaction with government.

Changes Benefit Governments and Citizens

In the past, Oregon was able to collect local permitting revenue via the Web, but the State would then need to fax or e-mail the information to each jurisdiction, with resultant delays and occasional errors. Users had a difficult time determining which permits they needed – particularly in cases involving jurisdictional (city vs. county) overlaps. Moreover, there wasn’t any way to schedule inspections via the State site or to let contractors see the results of their applications.

Today, the process is transparent, standardized, and streamlined for the communities and citizens involved. All users have to do is type in the addresses at which they’ll be working, and the system provides the appropriate list of permits needed. No jurisdiction knowledge is required. The system even prioritizes city over county permits, to avoid inter-jurisdictional conflicts, and then disburses fee revenue from the single, consolidated transaction directly to local merchant accounts for immediate processing. Moving forward, users will be able to track the status of their cross-jurisdictional applications from their home, office or handheld device.

How Oregon Did It

Flexibility for all parties is a hallmark of Oregon’s approach. The end goal has been to provide users with the same transparent e-permitting experience on a participating jurisdiction’s local Web site that they would derive on the State site.

To achieve this, Oregon realized it would need to work in different ways with different communities, based on their unique requirements, and identified three phases and categories of communities:

  1. Phase One: Quick Permits – jurisdictions having minimal infrastructure and requiring central hosting via Accela
  2. Phase Two: Full-Service Jurisdictions – those governments having some infrastructure to host e-permitting solutions themselves, but wanting to connect to the State’s portal
  3. Phase Three: Integrated Jurisdictions – a final phase involving integration of Oregon’s portal with third-party solutions used by jurisdictions that may already offer their own comprehensive e-permitting options.

Accessibility is also key. Oregon’s broad contract allows the State to pass along nearly GSA-level rates to communities – far less than the costs these governments would bear in building their own local portals. The state also sets up rules and standardization for features and functionality.

Scalability and Repeatability via standard plug-ins and configurations makes it easy to add new jurisdictions, while also customizing features to address unique needs and allowing local governments to decide which permits they want to offer on the DCBS portal.

Oregon’s e-permitting infrastructure and the communities leveraging it continue to expand. But it didn’t happen by accident. Oregon and Accela will illustrate how true transparency at the state and local level realizes its full potential only when accompanied by usability for citizens and communities.

Photo of Maury Blackman

Maury Blackman

Accela, Inc.

Maury Blackman has been CEO of Accela, Inc. since 2007. He joined the company in 2000 with years of experience managing Internet enterprises, evaluating emerging technologies, and establishing long-term strategic partnerships. He has served in a variety of business-development capacities at Accela, most recently as senior vice president of sales and marketing. Under his leadership, company sales realized triple digit growth, surpassing $40 million in the trailing four quarters prior to his 2007 appointment to president and CEO and to the Accela board of directors.

Prior to joining Accela, Mr. Blackman served as president of Telebuild, LLC, a leading Internet solution provider for construction professionals and architects. During his tenure, he forged successful relationships with construction industry cornerstones such as The American Institute of Architects, McGraw-Hill, Architecture Magazine, and The National Society of Professional Engineers. Mr. Blackman also served as a Field Artillery Officer in the United States Army.

Photo of Patrick Allen

Patrick Allen

State of Oregon, Dept. of Consumer & Business Services

Patrick Allen is the Acting Administrator of Oregon’s Building Codes Division, a part of the Department of Consumer and Business Services. There he manages a staff of over 100 employees responsible for setting state standards for plumbing, electrical, structural and other construction work, providing inspections for specialized structures like boilers and elevators, licensing construction trades, and overseeing the administration of the building code through local building departments across Oregon. He is currently responsible for the design and implementation of a first-in-the-nation statewide on-line building permit system. Mr. Allen has been with the Building Codes Division since 2007.

Prior to his current job, Mr. Allen managed Oregon’s Office of Regulatory Streamlining. There he was responsible for guiding the efforts of state agencies to make their business regulations faster, simpler, cheaper, easier to understand and to comply with, while not reducing Oregon’s standards for consumer, environmental and other protections. Since its opening by Mr. Allen in 2003, the office has worked with state agencies to start over 300 separate projects to simplify business regulations. To-date, over 150 projects have been completed, saving Oregon businesses over 100,000 of hours of time per year, 1.4 million sheets of annual paperwork no longer submitted to the state, and an estimated $15 million in annual business cost savings.

Mr. Allen has also worked for the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department, where he worked with businesses and communities on recruitment, downtown development and small business assistance, served on the staff of a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and spent a decade in the banking industry in Oregon. He has a degree in Economics from Oregon State University.

Patrick Allen lives in Sherwood, Ore., where he has served in a variety of civic roles, and is currently the chair of the Planning Commission.

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