What's New in Civic Tech: U.S. CTO Becomes Permanent Position, BigAppsNYC Winner to Gain Access to Wi-Fi Kiosks

Plus, a new data visualization partnership within federal government.

by / January 12, 2017
U.S. CTO Megan Smith reveals the Opportunity Project, a White House open data portal filled with 12 apps that help citizens find jobs, affordable housing and community resources. YouTube/The White House

What's New in Civic Tech is a weekly look back at highlights and happenings in the world of civic tech.

President Signs Bill Making U.S. Chief Technology Officer a Permanent Position

In his final weeks as president, Barack Obama has made permanent a position that came into being under his administration — the U.S. Chief Technology Officer.

On Jan. 6, Obama signed the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, part of which codified the CTO position into law as a Senate-confirmed presidential appointment. The position, currently filled by Google veteran Megan Smith, exists within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Through Obama’s administration, chief technology officers have been responsible for establishing the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program, helping save the ill-begun HealthCare.gov effort and beefing up open data offerings within the federal government.

The Sunlight Foundation criticized the bill for failing to include the CTO within the president’s cabinet, but praised the move itself.

“Technology is now part of every facet of society, including government itself,” foundation Deputy Director Alex Howard wrote in a blog post. “In the 21st century, it’s critical that the president of the United States have a technologist advising him or her on policy decisions.” 

BigAppsNYC Winner’s Prize: Access to LinkNYC Kiosks

The annual BigAppsNYC competition began Jan. 12 with the announcement that one winner of the competition will be eligible to have its app uploaded to the city’s growing fleet of public LinkNYC kiosks.

There are more than 500 active LinkNYC kiosks set up in all five boroughs, with plans to expand to 7,500. The devices spread free gigabit-speed Wi-Fi to the public, offer a connection to city services and allow users to make free phone calls. Kiosks are a growing component of smart city efforts, with Kansas City rolling out a fleet of the things to go with its downtown streetcar line and Sidewalk Labs pitching them to the Smart City Challenge winner Columbus, Ohio, as a network of data-gathering connectivity points.

According to the BigAppsNYC website, competition winners will also be accepted in Civic Hall Labs’ civic accelerator program.

This year’s challenge areas for BigAppsNYC are:

  • Transportation: “How might we use data and technology to make transit easier to use for youth, seniors and immigrants and develop innovative alternatives to supplement existing transit infrastructure?”
  • Knowledge: “How might we use data and technology to improve access to information to ensure youth, seniors and immigrants can make informed decisions and take action in their daily lives?”
  • Community resiliency: “How might we use data and technology to create opportunities for youth, seniors and immigrants to feel included and socially and physically connected in their daily lives?”

U.S. Department of Commerce, Tableau Partner to Visualize Public Data

The U.S. Department of Commerce, the guardian of more than 40,000 data sets, has partnered with Tableau and Enigma in an effort to help make its treasure troves more understandable to the public.

The department is working with Enigma for its data management platform and Tableau for its visualization tools, according to a Jan. 11 press release. Through the collaboration, users will be able to use Tableau’s tools to create their own visualizations of Commerce data as the department makes more available.

“It's my belief that while government has the power and the responsibility to collect and share critical data for decision-making — whether it’s about our economy, our weather, or our people — the comparative advantage of making this data actionable lies with the private sector,” said Laura McGorman, senior advisor at the Economics and Statistics Administration, in the statement.

An early example of what the collaboration could mean is captured in a map of the number of businesses in each metropolitan statistical area (MSA) throughout the U.S. The map, grouped into five regions, allows users to group MSAs together or select them individually, and color-codes each area by the number of businesses it plays host to. Users can break down the results further by number of employees or payroll.

Ben Miller Staff Writer

Ben Miller is the business beat staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.