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.”