Broadband

Throughout 2010 many government officials derided the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) disbursal of $7.2 billion set aside in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for broadband projects. People lamented the extra time the NTIA needed to evaluate applications. Applicants typically found the requirements onerous and sometimes contradictory. Also, the first round of winners represented a small portion of the $7.2 billion, prompting many to dismiss broadband’s near-term relevance to stimulating the economy. While the complaints were valid, the agency didn’t get enough credit for putting good stewardship of tax dollars ahead of shoveling stimulus money out the door.

   

In a move that was unpopular with governments, the NTIA gave most of its first-round broadband infrastructure grants to proposals driven by telecommunications companies, not state and local agencies. Many government CIOs were crushed after having run themselves ragged meeting tight application deadlines, said Alan Shark, executive director of the Public Technology Institute. “Any idealistic hope that we may have had has been evaporated by what they funded,” he said.

But Gartner analyst Alex Winogradoff, who helped the NTIA judge grant applications, said the agency had no choice but to reject many government-driven applications. Government submissions often lacked the expertise and preparedness of private-sector applications, he said. If the administration was going to spend billions in tax dollars on broadband, the money needed to go to proposals with the best expertise available. With a small staff, the NTIA made numerous efforts during 2010 to help government applicants revise their proposals. The agency allowed for resubmissions and held workshops across the country to give pointers on revisions. As more grants were announced in 2010, a reasonably even amount of broadband money ultimately went to both vendor and government applications.  — Andy Opsahl

Sustainability

What does it mean to “go green?” Not much anymore, as public and private organizations seemingly moved beyond that catchall phrase in 2010. In government, hardly anyone is going green — they’re practicing sustainability instead. Usually such buzzword bingo has little bearing on the issues being discussed. In this case, however, there really is a difference: Going green usually describes doing something simply because it’s environmentally friendly. Being sustainable, on the other hand, is not only environmentally friendly, but also makes an organization better in terms of cost, productivity and efficiency.

This year, there was no shortage of sustainability efforts at the local, state and federal levels. In November, one of the federal government’s premier examples of sustainability can be found at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo. NREL’s new Research Support Facility is a testament to how thoughtful construction, locally sourced materials and innovation can be combined to create a supremely energy-efficient structure, the cost of which rivals that of traditional buildings.

Meanwhile governors and state CIOs joined forces in 2010 to find ways to attract, invest in and leverage sustainable technology that will drive down the cost of doing business. In Sacramento, Calif., the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) is investing $128 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds for smart meters, dynamic pricing, electric vehicle charging stations and home energy management systems.

But not all sustainability efforts need to be as large scale as NREL’s or as expensive as SMUD’s. Reno, Nev., is a perfect example. In June, two 1.5 kilowatt wind turbines were put into operation atop the 17-story City Hall. Sustainability solutions like these, together with big-ticket projects, helped define 2010 — and will continue to do so in the future.

—    Chad Vander Veen

Mobile Devices

This year — like the last several — governments struggled with strict budgets, and officials sought ways to work smarter or risked getting left behind. In 2010, mobile devices became the go-to gadgets to boost efficiency, and governments couldn’t keep their hands off them.

With mobile technology, cash-strapped agencies had a way to save paper and time, interact with the public, and send and receive critical data in the field. This year, handheld tools — laptops, smartphones, PDAs — helped improve workflow management for agencies countrywide, from public safety to human services departments.

In law enforcement, mobile technology continued to drive the e-ticketing trend, streamline data delivery and enhance biometric operations. Building inspectors used the tools to remotely access information on permits, licenses and properties. In the spring, Florida’s Department of Children and Families distributed smartphones and laptops equipped with built-in cameras and a software program, enabling foster care caseworkers to take digital images and immediately upload information to the state’s child welfare data system.

Handheld devices have been on the market for years, but the game changed in April when Apple released its tablet computer: the iPad. To save time and reduce paper use, Williamsburg, Va., and Redwood City, Calif., used the tablet to eliminate printed materials for city council meetings and potentially save thousands of dollars.

But with mobile technology still new and spreading fast, cities and states are trying to keep up. Governments must determine where e-mail, text messages and chats on mobile devices fit in the transparency conversation so as not to undermine open records requirements.

In any case, as mobile devices evolve, the public sector will adapt to portable technologies to keep moving forward in the most efficient manner. — Russell Nichols

Public Safety

2010 was another year of doing more with less — and public safety agencies took this to heart. Throughout the year, Government Technology covered law enforcement agencies using technology deployments to promote public safety and smarter ways to use equipment.

San Jose, Calif., took President Barack Obama’s call for transparency to a level beyond tracking spending. The Police Department tested cameras that rest on an officer’s ear to record video footage of his or her encounters. The cameras provide a way for police officers and their superiors to see incidents from the officer’s point of view. The video data also can be used in court and allows police to turn the cameras on the public, which has been known to use technology to record officers’ actions.

License-plate readers were another growing piece of technology in the field. While recording license plates near a crime scene, cameras attached to police cars automatically scan and track vehicles’ license plates to see if they’re associated with people on the FBI’s most wanted list. License-plate readers also helped the Greenwich, Conn., Police Department recoup roughly $5,000 in outstanding parking fines by connecting the system to its parking violations database. When officers pass a vehicle that has outstanding tickets, the system alerts officers so they can contact parking violations personnel who then put a boot on the vehicle.

These are two examples of public safety departments using technology to aid officers in the field while implementing smarter uses that provide additional benefits to the government as a whole. One can only imagine how this trend will continue in 2011 and beyond. — Elaine Pittman