What's New in Civic Tech: Will USDS, 18F Be Charged with Helping Gov Agencies Limit Cyberthreats?

Plus, a pair of reintroduced bills seek to bolster federal open data and transparency, and Baltimore puts its building permit application process online.

by / March 30, 2017

What's New in Civic Tech takes a look at highlights and recent happenings in the world of civic technology.

Federal CISO Envisions ongoing cybersecurity roles for USDS, 18F

Grant Schneider, the acting federal chief information security officer (CISO) with the Office of Management and Budget, said the USDS and 18F should provide government agencies with the help they need to limit threats to cybersecurity, Meritalk reported Tuesday, March 28.

Schneider made the comments at the Akamai Government Forum, saying the two groups could help combat data breaches and also develop cybersecurity tools for governmental agencies. The goal, Meritalk reported, should be to work with government red teams, which are sent in to help fortify things after a significant data breach, to figure out what happened, how to fix it and offer ways to prevent it from happening again.

Schneider’s comments come in the aftermath of a White House report that said despite government efforts, hackers continue targeting federal agencies, leading to tens of thousands of cybersecurity incidents annually. This report came from the Office of Management and Budget, of which Schneider is a part.

It identified 30,899 cyberincidents in fiscal 2016, leading to the “compromise of information or system functionality” to the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team.

In the comments that Meritalk reported, Schneider called upon the private sector to help agencies by creating tools they can use that are agile, integrated, secure and cost-effective. Schneider went on to detail a list of his goals for the OMB’s future, including finding affordable ways to modernize IT systems, as well as managing federal cybersecurity experts in a way that sees them tackling the most difficult issues.

Bill Would Force Transparency for Federal Laws

A bill to put all historical federal laws online in a machine-readable, open data format was reintroduced in Congress Tuesday, March 28.

The Statutes at Large Modernizations Act (SALMA), H.R. 1729, was brought back up by Congressman David Brat, R-Va., and Congressman Seth Moulton D-Mass., in a bipartisan effort to bolster the overall transparency of laws in the United States.

Hudson Hollister, the executive director of the Data Coalition, voiced support for what the bill seeks to accomplish.

“Congress must adopt a comprehensive open data structure for all legislative materials including bills, amendments and enacted laws,” Hollister said in a statement. “The Statutes at Large Modernization Act will transform the Statutes at Large from outdated documents and PDFs to open, machine-readable data. Citizens, journalists, reporters and Congress itself will benefit.”

The bill seeks to create a more comprehensive alternative to the U.S. Code, which critics say is flawed because it doesn’t contain repealed laws; original laws prior to being amended; private laws affecting individuals or small groups; or cyclical bills with limited duration, which includes annual Congressional appropriations or infrastructure projects.

If passed, SALMA would direct the Government Publishing Office to lead the online digitization efforts in collaboration with federal and private entities that have expertise in such matters. The information within would then be available in searchable, non-proprietary open data format on Congress.gov.  

This bill comes in the aftermath of a U.S. Court ruling earlier this year that raised questions about what constitutes an unfair barrier between the public and rules it must follow at the state level.


Standardizing and Requiring Publication of Federal Data

A bicameral and bipartisan group of lawmakers have reintroduced a bill that would require all federal agencies to publish their information online in nonproprietary, machine-readable data formats.

The Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act, H.R. 1770, was brought back into consideration in the Senate by Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and by Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill expands upon Open Data Policy-Managing Information as an Asset, a 2013 government-wide open data policy that asks heads of federal departments and agencies to establish a framework to institutionalize the principles of effective and transparent information management.

The bill also builds on the DATA Act of 2014, the nation’s first actual law directing federal government to make spending information into open data. The difference between the previous and reintroduced bill is the scope, with the newer legislation seeking to require a broader range of data to be made transparent, as well as in searchable formats.

The reintroduction of this bill comes after President Donald Trump’s administration removed open data sets from government websites, sparking an outcry from watchdogs. For six weeks, a Whitehouse.gov page that once held intricate government open data sets has urged visitors to “Check back soon for new data.”

If passed, this bill would ensure that such a change could not be made at the whim of a new administration, as it would require that specific open data definitions be made into U.S. law.

Baltimore Develops Online Building Permit System

Baltimore has now moved the entirety of its building permit system online, after many years in which only a small percentage of construction permission were available in the public digital space.

This new system is called ePermits, and residents can now apply for any city building permits online, including plumbing, use and occupancy, and demolition. City officials have said that in some cases, applicants may receive an answer to requests within 30 minutes. This addition of digital services stands as part of a nationwide trend in which municipal governments are beginning to emphasize customer service online.

The platform provides users with a diverse range of capabilities, including video tutorials, a timeline of the review process and more. Users can also apply for permits with any device and at any time of day.

Baltimore is far from the only city in the country to put such a process online. San Francisco, for example, allows business owners to apply for licensing and permits with Web tools as well. 

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.