Tuesday, January 6, 2009

DC Technology Office Welcomes Student Robotics Competition

Today the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) announced OCTO’s inaugural partnership in the regional FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition for high-school students.

FIRST, founded in 1989, designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology, and engineering. In the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), teams of students and their mentors build robots designed to solve a defined problem. Each team has six weeks to build its robot from a standard kit of parts. Then the teams test their robots in challenge matches that measure the effectiveness of each robot, the power of collaboration, and the determination of students.

This year, for the first time, the District of Columbia is hosting the regional FRC competition, scheduled for February 26-28 at the Washington Convention Center. OCTO employees will serve as volunteer mentors to the District teams. District Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Vivek Kundra will sit on the regional judges’ panel and has enlisted local business and community partners to support the regional competition. Winners of the regional competition will compete in the international FIRST Championship on April 16-18 in Atlanta, Georgia.

This year’s competition launched on Saturday, January 3 via an international satellite broadcast on the NASA channel. DC regional competitors and mentors viewed the kickoff from McKinley Technology High School in the District.

“Forty years ago, NASA fueled a generation’s imagination with the success of Apollo 11,” noted FIRST founder Dean Kamen in the kickoff broadcast. “Just as NASA scientists landed a man on the moon and returned him safely to earth in 1969, so too will these young people go on to explore new frontiers and develop breakthrough technologies that will change the world.”

The District will field 15 teams for the 2009 FRC, one from Friendship Public Charter Schools, one from the University of the District of Columbia’s Saturday Academy and 13 from the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).

The DCPS teams include 200 students divided among five veteran teams that have entered at least one FRC before and eight rookie teams participating for the first time. The five veteran teams are Ballou Senior High School, Bell Multicultural High School, Roosevelt Senior High School, McKinley Technology High School and Francis L. Cardozo Senior High School. The eight rookie teams are School Without Walls High School, Calvin Coolidge Senior High School, Phelps Senior High School, Eastern Senior High School, Wilson Senior High School, Dunbar Pre-Engineering High School, Luke C. Moore Academy High School and Anacostia Senior High School.

District Chief Technology Officer Vivek Kundra welcomed the District teams to the January 3 kickoff broadcast at McKinley Tech. To cheers from the crowd, he congratulated McKinley Tech for helping lead a far-reaching “technology transformation” in the District’s public schools. Kundra recalled how a similar high school science competition sparked his lifelong fascination with science and math and set him on the path to an exciting technology career. “This competition will help you gain the skills you need to prosper in the global economy. It can really be a life-changing experience, leading to an exciting career in technology,” he said. “The science competition I entered in high school opened up the wonderful world of science, math and technology for me, as I know this competition will for you.”

To learn more about FIRST, visit http://www.usfirst.org/.

District of Columbia Opens New Window on Procurements

Today the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) announced the launch of two new sites that open major government procurement transactions to public view for the first time in District history. Now anyone can watch procurements unfold, step by step from start to finish.

The new procurement transparency portals represent another step in OCTO’s Digital Public Square initiative. The Digital Public Square brings citizens together and helps them hold government accountable through data catalogs, data feeds, mapping applications, transparency websites, social media tools and more. Anyone can discover and participate in the Digital Public Square by visiting dps.dc.gov.

One of the new procurement transparency sites is contracts.dc.gov. There visitors can see and participate in major current procurements conducted by OCTO and other District agencies. For example:

  • The Smart Access and Attendance Solution (SAAS) site provides information on OCTO’s procurement of a turnkey state-of-the-art system that will become the main access, security, and attendance solution for the public schools and eventually, other DC government agencies;
  • The Evidence Warehouse site tells visitors about the District’s procurement for a state-of-the-art Evidence Control and Storage Facility for the police department;
  • The Information Technology Staff Augmentation (ITSA) site is a comprehensive source of information about OCTO’s innovative master contract for information technology staff augmentation.

Each of the sites reveals every major step in the procurement from beginning to end, including the Request for Proposal (RFP) and other documents, questions and answers, and videos of pre-bidding conferences, public announcements, and other live events.

In addition, OCTO has created a new data site that offers complete information on OCTO’s procurements of contract staff. The new site, http://data.octo.dc.gov, reveals details of every IT staff engagement, including position, hourly rate, start date, and subcontracting vendor. A map on the site shows virtual “pins” for every award at the business address of each subcontracting vendor. Site visitors can see at a glance which vendors have been most successful in competing for OCTO contract staff business.

“We are driving transparency by practicing government in the public square,” said District Chief Technology Officer Vivek Kundra. “With our new procurement sites, we’re opening a window on District procurement and inviting the public to examine and comment on the ways we spend taxpayer dollars.”

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Enable Participatory Democracy by Providing 250+ Data Feeds to the Public

Building the Digital Public Square

In ancient Athens—the model for the democracy envisioned by the framers of our Constitution--citizens met, face to face, in the agora—the public square--to conduct business, debate civic issues, and drive the decisions of government. Gone are the days of daily meetings at the agora. Today, citizens know government as red tape, long lines, and cold, distant bureaucracies. The reins of government have slipped from “we the people” to inaccessible government officials.

The District of Columbia, however, is at the forefront of a new era of governance, one in which technological advances now allow people from around the world unfettered access to their government. Through these advances, constituents can hold their government accountable from the privacy of their own homes. The District of Columbia is bringing people closer to government through collaborative technologies like wikis, data feeds, videos and dashboards. We’re throwing open DC’s warehouse of public data so that everyone—constituents, policymakers, and businesses—can meet in a new digital public square.

The District maintains vast stores of data on every aspect of government operations, from government contracts to crime statistics to economic development. We have organized this data into convenient catalogs and live data feeds and made them available to the general public at http://data.octo.dc.gov/. Visitors to the site can find information on crime incidents by date, time of day, ward, block, or method; details on construction projects by location, type of construction, budget, completion date or status; data on registered vacant properties by ward, address, owner or tax assessment; or information on businesses, such as the locations of District establishments that hold liquor licenses. Mapping technology also allows users to view data geographically with a single click. Using an ordinary Web browser, anyone in the world can access this information.

When we first opened the doors to government data, people were quick to respond. Individuals and organizations are not only viewing our government data, but are actually improving upon our work by analyzing and repurposing the information in useful ways. One innovative DC resident took it upon herself to gather publicly-available government data on service requests, crimes, and building and public space permits to create a Web-based informational clearinghouse site that informs southeastern DC residents about local real estate development and the quality of government services. The Knight Foundation, a non-governmental organization, transformed District data into an online community news forum at EveryBlock.com. Here, visitors can plug in their zip code and find and exchange information about everything of interest in their neighborhoods—local businesses and reviews, real estate listings, crimes, road construction, city service requests, community meetings, and more. A private entrepreneur has assembled law enforcement data from the District and across the country into an online database, called “CrimeReports.” Visitors can get crime data and maps by address, zip, code, and type of crime and sign up for personalized crime alerts.

These are truly grassroots ventures. The democratization of government data has revealed an enormous appetite for civic participation. We are ushering in a new age of participatory democracy, one in which citizens are in the driver’s seat when they interact with government. Accessibility has never been greater, and this is just the beginning. In the last year, we published over 200 data feeds. During the coming year, we expect to double that.

Today, building the digital public square is not just appealing, it is imperative for every government, whether municipal, state, or national. We live in the information age. Nearly 1.5 billion people have access to the Internet—and they are using it in every way. There is a worldwide digital market for goods and services. For example, Amazon.com, founded just over a decade ago, now handles about 56 million transactions a year, and Ebay, founded at about the same time, now has over 275 million registered users. There are a growing number of global social and artistic networks. Facebook alone, founded just four years ago, now has over 60 million active users, and YouTube, a year younger, hosted 3 billion video views in a single month this year. We responded to these new communications trends by expanding DC Government’s presence onto Facebook and posting job listings and bid solicitations on YouTube under the “DC Government” channel. Leveraging consumer technology in this way allows us to reach wider audiences at no cost to taxpayers.

Until now, government has largely been absent in the trend towards worldwide exchange of information and services. Starting here in the District, we hope to demonstrate that government, too, can and must step fully into the digital arena. That is why the digital public square is now at the heart of our efforts to make government services more effective, accessible, and transparent. By ensuring that every citizen has a front row seat in the digital public square, we’ll continue to return government into the hands of “we, the people.”

Please visit the DC digital public square at http://dps.dc.gov/.