Ryan Turner
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OMB Watch Nonprofits' Policy and Technology Project Ryan Turner is the Coordinator for the OMB Watch Nonprofits' Policy and Technology Project www.ombwatch.org. To subscribe to NPTalk, the NPT listserv, send a message to lyris@ombwatch.org , leave the subject line blank, and write in the message body: subscribe nptalk Your Name.
Ryan Turner

OMB Watch is a nonprofit research, educational, and advocacy organization that focuses on budget issues, regulatory policy, nonprofit advocacy, access to government information, and the impact of technology on nonprofits' engagement in public policy and democratic participation. To a large extent, we work with and through the nonprofit sector because of its vital place in our communities and our faith that the sector can play a powerful role in revitalizing our democratic principles.

OMB Watch is widely recognized as a leader in the use of communications technology (e.g., e-mail, the World Wide Web, and online databases) for sharing policy information among community groups across the nation.

At the December 1998 meeting of OMB Watch's Nonprofits' Policy and Technology Project, Ryan Turner sits next to Kate Boland (left), Community Development Associate with the United Way, Camden County, NJ. OMB Watch Executive Director Gary Bass chairs, while Patrice McDermott makes notes on the easel charts.
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Richard Civille, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Civic Networking and Chris Sullivan, MIS Director for the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, at the Nonprofits' Policy and Technology December meeting.
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Since 1989, we have operated RTK NET (the Right-to-Know Network) in partnership with the Unison Institute to provide free access to environmental, fair housing/fair lending, and other data to empower citizen involvement in community and government decision-making. OMB Watch has also made use of e-mail and web activities in various legislative campaigns such as those to defeat a series of proposals to silence the advocacy voice of nonprofits and proposals in the Contract with America (e.g., a constitutional amendment to balance the U.S. budget and various proposals to undermine environmental, health and safety public protections).

Since the mid-1980s, OMB Watch has advocated policies to strengthen access to federal government information, but has stepped up that agenda as the Internet has become more ubiquitous. In 1998, we launched the Agenda for Access project, a two year project aimed at building a base of local, state, and national groups interested in public access, developing tools to promote the public's right-to-know, and making specific recommendations for improved public policies.

In late 1997, after spending a year coordinating NonProfit America, which was a research effort to discuss use of technology in the nonprofit sector, OMB Watch launched the Nonprofits' Policy & Technology (NPT) Project. NPT is a three-year initiative to educate the nonprofits about using newer information technologies to strengthen public policy participation. The NPT Pilot Project Grants program provides small grants to nonprofit efforts that employ information technology tools and strategies to develop or bolster their public policy activities. The NPT Innovation Awards provides small financial awards in recognition of technology strategies used by nonprofits in public policy activities that demonstrate effectiveness, innovation, and lessons learned. NPT also operates NPTALK, a daily digest for professionals, experts, researchers, and advocates interested in nonprofits' use of information and communications technology for public policy activities. Later this year, the NPT Project will launch an online resource center to share emerging nonprofit case examples, research, and technology resources for public policy activities. NPT is also experimenting with ways of improving the flow of policy information so that nonprofits get the type of information that they want.

OMB Watch is also a member of various efforts dealing with use of the Internet to bolster democratic principles. For example, we are a member of the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee. Despite the growing ubiquity of the Internet, we have found that there is still a problem with low-income, minority, and rural groups gaining access to both basic and higher-end technology and communications resources. It is often argued that schools and libraries can bridge the gap in access to computers and to the Internet. But this hope is not fully borne out by the current situation. Not surprisingly, access is not distributed randomly, but correlated strongly with income and education.

There is, however, growing support and an increase in the number of community technology efforts working to meet the needs of the underserved in America -- minority, low-income, homeless, elderly, people with disabilities, and immigrant populations, in urban and rural areas. These community technology centers are an integral part of the communities they serve.

Along with a number of groups, including the Alliance for Community Media, the Alliance for Technology Access, American Library Association, the Association for Community Networking, Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, Libraries for the Future, National Education Association, National Urban League, and SeniorNet, OMB Watch has been working to rectify the problem of inequity by highlighting opportunities for community technology centers to take advantage of federal funding resources, and expressing support for the proposed appropriations of $65 million for Community Technology Centers under the FY 2000 Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.

OMB Watch seeks to provide opportunities for nonprofits to learn about and utilize newer technologies for public policy activities; improve communication and coordination between technology and public policy professionals in the nonprofit sector; and identify ways to increase the accessibility to and comfort level with these tools for all citizens. In all our work, we are guided by the belief that improving access to our governmental decision-makers and energizing citizen participation leads to a more just, equitable and accountable government, and a healthier civil society.