What's New in Civic Tech: USDS Is Here to Stay, NYC Council Email Alerts Now Available

Plus, a philanthropic foundation plans to help continue the Obama administration’s Data-Driven Justice Initiative.

by / January 26, 2017
credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci AP Photo/Evan Vucci

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

Newly Appointed Federal Chief Digital Officer: USDS is Here to Stay. Period

President Donald Trump’s newly appointed federal chief digital officer, Gerrit Lansing, tweeted that the United States Digital Service “is here to stay in the new administration. Period.”

The tweet came Monday in response to a news report in which anonymous sources claimed the USDS would soon face a reduction from more than 200 workers to a few dozen. On Thursday, Lansing also tweeted support for 18F, noting that Reed Cordish, the new assistant to the president for intragovernmental and technology initiatives, told the group "we have your back."

This informal support is welcome news for those involved. Amid the Trump administration's transition, questions have surrounded the fate of the USDS, which was founded under the Obama administration to improve government use of technology after the HealthCare.gov failure and is part of the Executive Office of the President. There have also been questions about the future of 18F, another product of the Obama administration, this one founded to build digital services for government.  

Obama was widely praised for his support of tech, and for working to connect private-sector innovation with federal public services. As it relates to those efforts, Trump is viewed by many as an unknown. The new president has not directly commented on the USDS or other tech initiatives such as 18F.

These agencies have been staffed with talent recruited from the private sector. Other than Lansing’s tweet, the Trump administration has not released any concrete plans about the fate of either group, or the future of tech recruitment under an administration that has so far sought to change many of its predecessor’s initiatives. 

NYC Councilmatic Keeps Public Informed

The public can now get customized email updates about even the smallest happenings on the New York City Council via NYC Councilmatic, a site aimed at improving online dialog and community awareness by connecting New York City residents with local government. 

Users can tailor NYC Councilmatic’s new daily email updates to include specific council members, legislative items, committee hearings and meeting schedules. The feature joins other additions to the site, including email updates for search terms, comments posted for council offices and pasteable HTML, which local groups and blogs can use. The can now receive updates on NYC Council actions each morning via email, eliminating the need to visit and search Councilmatic’s site.

Kristen Rouse of the NYC Veterans Alliance, whose group is featured on Councilmatic’s home page, praised the features in a statement. “This is a great feature for NYC Veterans Alliance members to be able to track legislation they care about, themselves, and to see what community members are saying about it," she said. "It’s important to have their voices heard and integrate easily with our members’ social media channels. It’s user-friendly and accessible, and a great innovation that brings our government to our inbox. Our staff and volunteers will use the email alerts to track our legislation and the Veterans Committee meeting schedules.”

NYC Councilmatic is a nonprofit project by the Participatory Politics Foundation, supported by a charitable grant from the Rita Allen Foundation for greater public dialog. The site, which is open source, was built by DataMade, a civic tech company out of Chicago.

Foundation to Help Continue Obama Administration’s Data-Driven Justice Initiative

After enlisting two former White House advisers, a philanthropic foundation has announced plans to help continue the Obama administration’s Data-Driven Justice Initiative, which aims to keep low-level repeat offenders out of the criminal justice system by using data and analytics.

The advisers are Lynn Overmann and Kelly Jin, and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation announced their hiring Monday in a release that notes Overmann as vice president of data-driven justice and Jin as director of data-driven justice. Overmann most recently served as senior adviser to the U.S. chief technology officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, while Jin’s last post was as an adviser to the U.S. CTO and chief data strategist in that same office.

The duo helped launch the White House Data-Driven Justice Initiative in June 2016. The goal was to help city, county and state governments use data and analytics to keep low-level offenders with mental illnesses out of the criminal system, as well as to change pre-trial incarceration so low-risk individuals aren’t left in jail because they can’t afford bond. It has gathered a bipartisan coalition of 140 city, county and state governments, covering a population of 94 million in places that range from rural Potter County in Pennsylvania to Los Angeles County in California.

The initiative, which is no longer listed on WhiteHouse.gov under President Trump, will now be spearheaded by the foundation, as well as the National Association of Counties and other experienced former members of federal agencies. 

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.