What’s New in Civic Tech: Code for Atlanta Urges City to Publish Post-Mortem Following Ransomware Attack

Plus, Code for America launches new Community Fellowship program; the ACLU looks to hire data scientists; and the U.S. Treasury launches a data lab on its revamped USAspending.gov site.

by / April 5, 2018
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Two weeks after a major ransomware attack waylaid Atlanta’s municipal government — to the point the FBI and Department of Homeland Security were called upon to assist in the response — a local civic tech group is now calling for a “blameless port-mortem” on the incident.

Code for Atlanta is a circulating a petition requesting the city do just that, the language of which notes that in the tech industry conducting a blameless post-mortem after software failures or data losses is widely considered a best practice.

“As the name suggests, a blameless post-mortem does not seek to point fingers,” Code for Atlanta writes in the petition. “Instead, its aim is to create a fair and just accounting of what mistakes were made in the lead up to the failure and what was done in response.”

The petition calls upon Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to direct the review and to share it with the public once completed, stressing that it will remove fear of anyone involved being blamed and allow the relevant agencies to focus on making necessary improvements to mitigate the risks of a future attack.

As GovTech has recently reported, officials have not publicly discussed the origin of the attack. And the FBI, U.S. Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security have all assisted the city’s incident response team, as have units from Microsoft, Cisco and security solutions provider Secureworks.

Code for America launches new Community Fellowship program

Code for America announced the new Community Fellowship pilot that seeks to pair talent from its local brigades with government, boasting an end goal of improving services for constituents.

The program is, of course, in service of the long-standing mission of Code for America, a non-political and nonprofit group that seeks to facilitate more efficient use of technology by government to improve quality of life for residents. The Code for America Brigade Network is a national alliance made up of community organizers, developers and designers across the country. Member groups use tech and tech-based projects in service of the communities in which they are located.

In the medium post announcing the program, Code for America’s founder and executive director, Jennifer Pahlka, described the new pilot as “a way for local leaders — including developers, designers, procurement experts, policy wonks, product managers, and more  —  to help their community’s most vulnerable residents.”

The announcement comes with an about page, an application and a set of frequently asked questions. Accepted fellows will spend between three and six months basically embedded with government, collaborating with staff, researching citizen and other user needs and meeting with stakeholders, all with an eye toward using tech to improve services for vulnerable populations.

Code for America has hired Hashim Mteuzi to lead the work. Mteuzi comes from the private sector, having previously served as senior manager of tech for FedEx.

The ACLU looks to hire data scientists

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is looking to hire a senior data scientist for its data and analytics department.

Announcing its search in a job posting, the ACLU emphasized that the position was one steeped in innovation and finding “data-driven methods and advanced analytics to transform the way the nationwide organization achieves its mission.” In a broader sense, the ACLU looking to hire data scientists is part of an ongoing trend in which government and government-adjacent organizations are increasingly focused on data-driven decision-making.

Within municipal and state governments, there has been a recent rise of chief data officers, and while the role is not yet omnipresent in such organizations, it is far more common than it was even two or three years ago. Data scientists are also becoming increasingly sought after by public safety agencies such as the police and fire departments, as analytics have begun to prove useful in learning more about — and ultimately reducing — a diverse set of problems ranging from fires to opioid overdoses.

The ACLU itself already has a chief data officer, whom the successful candidate for this position would report to. Work is expected to include supporting the ACLU’s “advocacy, fundraising, affiliate support, and communications needs. The senior data scientist will play a leading role in designing the ACLU’s data architecture, building models, and deploying solutions to help the ACLU identify meaningful insights, inform strategic decisions and enhance modes of constituent engagement.”

U.S. Treasury launches data lab as part of revamped USAspending.gov

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Bureau of Fiscal Service has launched an analytics portal on its newly revamped USAspending.gov website.

The portal is in accordance with the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, the nation’s first open data law, which requires federal government agencies to transform spending info into open data. Open data advocacy groups have praised the new portal, saying it is the first of its kind, and that it is poised to transform government methods for publishing spending data that has not previously been available.

“We congratulate the Treasury’s Fiscal Service team and the Office of Management and Budget for the successful roll-out of the new DATA Act site, USASpending.gov,” said Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Coalition, in a statement. “The revamped site and Data Lab provide greater insights, accountability and oversight into $3.98 trillion of government spending last year alone. We are encouraged by the progress and recognize that agencies must continue to improve the quality of their data submissions in accordance with the law’s requirements.”

In addition to increased spending info, the portal enables members of Congress, data scientists, nonprofit groups and journalists to freely access information and analysis via a bulk download or the application programming interface (API).

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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.