The Hawaii State Ethics Commission has been talking for more than a year about how to improve its online electronic filing system.

The current system by which lawmakers and other government officials file required disclosure forms on finances, gifts, lobbying and travel is clunky — requiring, for example, users to submit PDF documents, either printed out or as electronic attachments.

Executive Director Les Kondo wants all ethics forms to be made available electronically, speeding up not only how long it takes to complete and submit them but also their review by Ethics Commission staff.

The commission currently processes about 4,000 disclosure reports annually.

The Hawaii State Ethics Commission at its Dec. 2 meeting downtown.

Hawaii State Ethics Commission members at their Wednesday meeting downtown.

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

“We’ve had terrible experiences with the electronic filing system,” said Kondo. “It frustrates not only us but users. You could only use the system from certain browsers, forms would be blank. We had to get it fixed.”

Honolulu blogger and Civil Beat columnist Ian Lind agrees that the system is clunky, writing in a May column that to say it “does not work well” is “a gross understatement.”

Lind, reviewing to the commission’s testimony on the matter, noted that the system only recognizes Internet Explorer and that it does not work with any Apple computer or iPad.

The Hawaii Legislature gave Kondo’s office $130,000 this year to contract with Hawaii Information Consortium, which manages the state’s web portal, eHawaii.gov.

But, as Kondo explained to the five members of the Ethics Commission at their meeting Wednesday, he’s close to “pulling the plug” with HIC because the work with the consortium has not been as successful as hoped.

Instead, Kondo has been in consultation with Todd Nacapuy, the state’s chief information officer who runs the Office of Enterprise Technology Services. Nacapuy connected Kondo with Derek Ichiyama, the state’s liaison with HIC, and work is underway to make the long financial forms for lawmakers available electronically as soon as January.

(ETS manages data.hawaii.gov as well as dashboard.hawaii.gov, which receives direct input and data supplied by state departments.)

That would be timely, as the filing deadline is now Jan. 31 rather than May 31, thanks to recent legislative action. The move was made so that the public and the media could review updated financial information — such as legislators’ stock holdings, their employers and their spouses’ employers — to see whether there is a possible conflict of interest on legislation lawmakers may be voting on during the January-May session.

A screen shot of Gov. David Ige's financial disclosure form.

A screen shot of Gov. David Ige’s financial disclosure form.

“The Ethics Commission’s project aligns with the governor’s priority for an effective, efficient and open government, including greater transparency and accountability,” Nacapuy said Wednesday.

Because the Ethics Commission, which is attached to the Legislature, is working with the executive branch, an independent contractor would not have to be paid for the system overhaul. That was welcome news to commissioners David O’Neal and Ruth Tschumy.

Kondo praised the concept of separate branches working together rather than having to “reinvent the wheel,” but he estimates his office will still need up to $30,000 of the state funds to upgrade software and hardware. He plans to discuss the new development with Senate Ways and Means Chair Jill Tokuda and House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke, who have been supportive of the filing overhaul.

Kondo said he hopes that the Ethics Commission can continue to tweak the system so that more disclosure data can be filed electronically, and that it becomes more user-friendly — for example, allowing users to search documents electronically.

Civil Beat users can do that already, by the way, thanks to our public officials data disclosure tool. But that includes just two years of data that is compiled manually.

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