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Tech Showcase Conveys that Sacramento, Calif., Is Not All Talk When It Comes to Autonomous Vehicles

June 28, 2017 - 11:30

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Aligned outside the new Golden 1 Center, a series of autonomous vehicles (AVs) were on display the afternoon of June 27 to showcase the technology and how it may impact California's capital city in the future.

Sacramento is intent on positioning itself as a major player in the AV game. To that end, the city along with representatives from the state Legislature, industry partners and the Sacramento Kings launched the Autonomous Transportation Open Standards Lab (ATOS) earlier this year in order to “develop an open standards lab and a protocol that achieves the delicate balance between ensuring that this technology is safe and, at the same time, ensure a regulatory environment where we are not stifling innovation,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg told Government Technology in April.

And this showcase was a very public display to show that Sacramento is not all talk.

The full spectrum of AVs was on display: an Audi A7 sedan, a Chrysler minivan outfitted with Renovo self-driving software, an Otto autonomous big rig and an EasyMile driverless shuttle.

This demonstration showcases that Sacramento has the ability to bring companies in, said Chief Innovation Officer Louis Stewart.

“We’re trying to affect the conversation by bringing more awareness, more education and more visibility to the technology,” he added. “Companies a lot of the time have to come to Sacramento, to talk to regulators, but often don't know who they need to talk to. So we’re trying to position City Hall and Sacramento as that place that can be the connector.”

California has issued AV testing permits to more than 30 companies, including Apple, Waymo (the Google spin-off), Ford, General Motors and Tesla. “The state is the regulator,” said Stewart. “We want to have a role in the conversation where we give the companies and the regulators a place to meet so it's not all virtual.”

The city is taking a holistic approach to the issue. Recently the city entered into a partnership with Verizon to deploy a 5G network using small cell transmitting devices. While autonomous vehicles often use some combination of lidar sensors, radar and motion sensors, setting up infrastructure to enable communication with vehicles creates multiple redundancies in the system leading to better safety outcomes. Vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication can also be used by connected non-autonomous cars to warn drivers of collisions or update traffic conditions.

Another part of the equation is creating the appropriate workforce that can work on and operate the next generation of vehicles.

“The city has started pushing on workforce side of the conversation," Stewart said. "We want to bring in community colleges, we want to bring in Sac State, UC Davis to the table, and have a conversation about the jobs of the future."

The hope is that this effort will lead Sacramento to have one of the most advanced workforces. “At least we can show what that pipeline looks like, from coding to cybersecurity to working on autonomous cars.”

During the announcement of the ATOS Lab, Kings owner and technology veteran Vivek Ranadive issued the King’s Challenge — he challenged the city to have 40 to 50 people arrive to the first Kings game of the season in an autonomous vehicle. While the Oct. 30 deadline is fast approaching and could incite panic other cities, Stewart said Sacramento is ready to meet the goal.

“We heard him loud and clear,” he added, noting that officials are in advanced talks to have 20 to 25 autonomous vehicles in the city by September. The end goal, however, is not about the Oct. 30 opening game, after which these AVs go back to wherever they are from, he explained — it is part a much larger effort to get a sustained presence of autonomous vehicle manufacturers working with the city, eventually deploying services to help residents and provide economic development opportunities.

“We want autonomous cars and connected cars to be synonymous with Sacramento," Stewart said.

Report: Federal Regulations Website Should Consider Adopting Yelp-Style Commenting Approach

June 28, 2017 - 08:00 launched in 2003 during then-President George W. Bush’s first term as an online resource to research and comment on federal regulations under development. Despite making improvements in recent years, however, website curators have more work to do, say officials at nonprofit Argive.

Designed as a way to modernize public interaction prescribed by legal obligations dating to the 1940s, the website created a centralized repository for a veritable mountain of federal data — everything from scientific and technical findings to food labeling and national monument review regulations.

But in the June 15 report Improving A Perspective from Silicon Valley, authors at Argive, a 501c3 focused on improving transparency and accountability in regulatory decision-making, said the website’s mission would be greatly enhanced if aspects of its process were updated.

Calling the website “dated” and “a formality to legislative requirements of the rule-making process,” report authors documented issues they found during an analysis of two rule-making dockets.

The first examined a presidential memorandum calling on the Department of Commerce to take comments on rules affecting American manufacturers. Nearly 200 people ultimately commented.

The second scrutinized a comment analysis of responses to the controversial Food & Drug Administration (FDA) rule that equates electronic cigarettes with tobacco products and therefore subject to the same regulations.

Here, more than 100,000 commenters weighed in; but, authors wrote, “both illustrate similar challenges in soliciting effective regulatory feedback.”

Maleka Momand, Argive president and one of three report authors, told Government Technology that the website’s underlying issue is how it “is designed to collect and process the comments.”

Also at issue is that comments were submitted as “unstructured free text or PDF attachments,” making them tough to quickly read, interpret or summarize public opinion.

To remedy this, report authors suggested that up-voting, summary statistics and the ability to track “comments on comments” would be useful additions, and recommended the Amazon product review interface as a helpful model.

Another contention in the report was that "because most of the public is unfamiliar with," a “majority” of comments on requests for information (RFIs) came from interest groups "with coordinated federal lobbying agendas,” according to the report.

The authors' recommendations included having the agencies that draft the regulations tag them with industry-specific North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes and build RSS feeds based on those codes.

Filtering comments by industry, and from newest to oldest, and thinking about different ways to “splice” data could “produce more actionable insights for policymakers,” Momand said.

And to cut down on duplicate comments, authors recommended offering users the option of signing an online petition posted to the docket.

Also, limited comment windows date to the Administrative Procedures Act of 1946, a foundation of, but stand in contrast to modern private-sector websites like Yelp. Argive recommended creating “living dockets” and eliminating 90-day comment periods.

Momand said she envisions an update built on software that could create a more effective, Yelp-like experience, “where you can read other people’s reviews, up-vote it, down-vote it, add your own comments to it and really create this dynamic filtering function … .”

The existing comment window, she said, stifles “sophisticated analysis or well-put-together thoughts on a rule.”

Comments “rarely” yielded tangible data on the costs and benefits of rules — another consequence of limited comment periods. Improving cost-benefit models and clearly explaining their assumptions could help, authors wrote.

Also, comments seldom suggested “actionable improvements” or “specific legal changes” to the rules in question.

Comment windows stifle the chance that submissions might continue and provide ongoing documentation of a regulation’s success or failure, Momand and other website users told Government Technology.

“I think that just allowing for more long-term planning and allowing people to comment down the line on how a rule has impacted them would be pretty tremendous in our ability to capture how the regulatory state operates and how it affects the U.S.,” Momand said.

Doing away with them “could improve regulations by providing additional information to agencies that they might have missed,” said Sofie E. Miller, senior policy analyst at the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Patrick McLaughlin, a senior research fellow and director of the Program for Economic Research on Regulation at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia, said he "wouldn’t want to entirely throw under the bus. But on the other hand, they could have gone further, they can still go further."

A larger issue, McLaughlin added, is that “there are too many cooks in the kitchen in some sense.”

“The content on the website depends on all the different agencies using the website correctly. But the central curators can’t do all that themselves,” he added, referring to naming and filing documents correctly.

McLaughlin and Miller agreed curators are likely very interested in making ongoing updates to the website.

“Their goal is to improve regulations by improving information and improving public participation in the process,” Miller told Government Technology.

In 2013, open government advocate the Sunlight Foundation generally agreed, praising the recent release of its API as well as styling, presentation and organizational updates.

As to whether the government website could someday more closely resemble Yelp, Miller said the idea reminded her of several years ago when Wikipedia became popular and some suggested government regulations follow its style in becoming living documents.

“These kinds of ideas have been around for a while. I’m not sure how well they fit into our administrative law system,” she said, indicating statutory changes might be needed first.

McLaughlin, creator of website RegData, which quantifies regulations by content and industry, praised for having an API and said launching a private Yelp-style website where visitors could give feedback on its documents “wouldn’t be that hard to set up.”

But even in the private sector, “whether it’s actually used is the bigger question,” he said. “That remains to be determined.”

Vegas, D.C. Showcase Their Smart Cities Approaches In Austin, Texas

June 28, 2017 - 04:30

AUSTIN, Texas — At this week's the Smart Cities Connect Conference, officials have acknowledged that the next iteration of the smart city should focus more on people and less on infrastructure; the National Science Foundation highlighted three ways it's supporting the greater gov tech movement; and five new cities joined the Smart Gigabit Communities program.

But not all attendees took to the stage to share their smart city approaches. On the show floor, Don Jacobson, IT business partner with the city of Las Vegas, told Government Technology that about 18 months ago, the City Council designated the downtown area as an Innovation District "where we can take and make that a proving ground — a demo area test bed if you will — for all sorts of smart cities technologies," he said, calling out the Internet of Things, connected and autonomous vehicles, and sensors that gather environmental data.

Jacobson mentioned the Innovate.Vegas website, which offers details on news events and activities happening in the larger innovation space, and also links to an interactive map of the Innovation District that displays the connected corridors along with locations of sensors being installed.

Across the country, Washington, D.C., has two big projects that Mike Rupert, communications director for the Office of the Chief Technology Officer, was highlighting at the conference.

"The first one is called PA2040, which is a nine-square-block project that we have installed Gigabit Wi-Fi, which is ubiquitous throughout the area — it's very busy from about 9 to about 4, and it's pretty empty after that," he said. "And so we want to kind of activate the area, provide that Wi-Fi to activate parks, to keep people moving and walking, instead of either hiding in their cars ... or hiding in their offices."

The city also just wrapped up a pilot in which 76 intelligent street lights were configured with motion sensors, Rupert said, so each is 30 percent lit until someone comes within 100 yards of it.

"It also allows us to control them remotely for special events or in the event of an evacuation — God forbid something happens — we're able to turn it on 100 percent, or blink them to point people in the right direction," he added, "so that was the really exciting pilot, which has led to an RFP to actually go start doing this throughout the entire city."

One of our GovTech 100 companies — AppCityLife — also was at Smart City Connect, and CEO Lisa Abeyta told Government Technology that AppCityLife was selected as one of the six presenters for the Innovation Challenge for Infrastructure. While it may seem rather odd to have a platform as a service that is focused on data as part of infrastructure, she noted that that's where it needs to start.

"The thing that the judges said made them decide that we should be part of that is the fact that we are platform agnostic, and that we are integrating artificial intelligence, chatbots, normalizing data, have native mobile apps that have more advancements for ADA compliance," she said, adding that these advancements are not for the just visually impaired, but also can now bring in natural language so that people who are illiterate or non-native English-language speakers can use technology that they previously couldn't. "So it expands the breadth of reach for a city that allows more people to use the technology"

3 Ways the National Science Foundation Supports Gov Tech

June 27, 2017 - 15:15

AUSTIN, Texas — This week, hundreds of government agencies, companies, nonprofits and academic institutions have assembled for the 5th annual Smart Cities Connect Conference, held June 25-28 at the Austin Convention Center. One of the major supporters of the dialog is a federal government agency — the National Science Foundation (NSF).

And in an opening keynote, Erwin Gianchandani, deputy assistant director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) for NSF, discussed how the agency is working with cities and advancing the greater gov tech movement.

1. Funding

In 2016 alone, NSF invested more than $35 million in funding for local government-focused initiatives ranging from US Ignite ($10 million) to the Smart and Connected Communities program ($8 million). These research dollars are used to support next-generation research, infrastructure and technology testing.

For agencies interesting in learning more, the research and funding areas are:

Smart and Connected Communities (SCC) Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) US Ignite Smart and Connected Health (SCH) CISE Research Infrastructure (CRI) Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI) Critical Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Systems and Processes (CRISP) Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity (PFI:BIC) 2. Community

The SCC program is a major initiative designed to answer vital research questions and foster partnerships to improve the way cities function and citizens live. The NSF website specifies that outside of education and partnerships, the agency's aim is to catalyze:

new methods and technologies for leveraging data; advances in the modeling and design of complex sociotechnical systems; research in the dynamics, characteristics and behaviors of individuals and communities; and development of new methods and technologies that support education and workforce development. 3. Frameworks

Early this year, the Smart Cities and Communities Task Force partnered with several other federal agencies to release the Smart Cities and Community Federal Strategic Plan Draft, a framework for catalyzing smart cities advancement at the federal level.

Gianchandani's keynote concluded with a call to action for cities — they should take a proactive approach in research and testing next-gen technologies by partnering with local universities to tap into their expertise, as well as participate in the work being done at the federal level through the Smart and Connected Communities program.

Agencies interesting in learning more can e-mail NSF directly at

5 New Cities Become Smart Gigabit Communities

June 27, 2017 - 14:50

AUSTIN, Texas — At the Smart Cities Connect Conference held June 25-28 at the Austin Convention Center, US Ignite and the National Science Foundation announced five new cities that have joined the Smart Gigabit Communities (SGC) program, which "accelerates the development of advanced gigabit applications that cannot run on current networks as the bedrock of smart communities by identifying new economic and social opportunities created by those applications," according to the SGC website.

Each "gigabit" city receives support from the National Science Foundation to use its physical and wireless network infrastructure as an enabler of smart applications to solve specific community problems.

Cities joining the program this year include:

Washington, D.C. Albuquerque, N.M. Phoenix San Diego Jackson Energy Authority in Tennessee

These selected communities join the ranks of 19 other previously selected cities, including Austin; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Lafayette, La.; Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas; and Cleveland.

A formal request for proposals will be forthcoming in the next few weeks to identify two additional cities to join the Smart Gigabit Communities network.

Affront to Florida's Agency for State Technology Officially Dies by Governor’s Veto

June 27, 2017 - 07:15

In early 2017, Florida’s House Government Operations and Technology Appropriations subcommittee launched a legislative assault on the autonomy of the state’s centralized IT shop, the Agency for State Technology (AST). That affront, better known as House Bill 5301, did not survive Gov. Rick Scott’s veto June 23.

When the bill was originally introduced in March, the chief sponsor of the bill, Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-District 35, raised issue with the 3-year-old agency’s authority over the state’s data center oversight, and targeted what he perceived as unnecessary costs and ballooning IT expenses. 

He called for agencies to conduct their own cost-benefit analyses around data center use, which would have allowed them to unilaterally move to individual cloud services at will. Experts worried the plan would have driven up costs for agencies remaining under the data center’s cost recovery model. 

Officials within the agency and experts in the state’s tech community voiced concern about the plan to essentially decentralize the agency, but the bill proceeded, eventually being tied to the state’s budgeting and appropriations process. In May, word filtered down that through budget conference negotiations, the agency had secured its at-risk funding and would remain intact. 

As a result of the budget conference, AST was able to increase some measure of authority in the form of a new chief data officer position and the creation of the geographic information office, though 20 positions would be cut — eight of which were staffed as of May 4.

The negotiations also netted some additional reporting requirements for AST, but those leading the agency said they were happy to oblige.

Though officials within the agency are pleased their charge will remain, they are not dwelling on the events of the past several months. Rather, Erin Choy, spokesperson for the agency, told Government Technology that they are focused on the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January, and the many initiatives they would like to see come to fruition.

“Because of the way, in even-numbered years, the legislative session begins the second week in January, AST folks are working on proposed legislative budget requests and policy proposals,” she said. “So, yes, we were waiting for the governor’s action on the bill, but we are very focused on improving the current environment.”

As Government Technology has reported, Florida's IT agencies have faced considerable challenges at the hands of the state’s Legislature to this point. In 2005, the Florida State Technology Office was shuttered after losing its funding. And in 2012, the Agency for Enterprise Information Technology was pulled by Scott rather than allowing it to stand in title and function without funding.

Congress Unveils 14 Proposed Pieces of Self-Driving Vehicle Legislation

June 27, 2017 - 05:30

Less than five years ago, autonomous vehicle (AV) technology was merely a concept — a look at what the future may hold. But autonomous vehicles entering the public sphere has quickly become a question of when, not if; a reality in which AVs on our roadways is rapidly approaching. And more than 80 state bills introduced across the country are working toward regulating this developing industry.

The federal government also is working on regulation; during a congressional hearing on June 27, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection subcommittee discussed 14 proposed pieces of self-driving vehicle legislation that it plans to compile into one legislative package.

Traditionally states regulate drivers while the federal government regulates the vehicle. States have created the rules for driver eligibility through licensing and insurance requirements, and maintaining surface street and freeway conditions. Meanwhile the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines what type of vehicles are able to operate within the United States by enforcing the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).

But as U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., noted during the questioning period, “Vehicles are now the driver.”

As such, subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta, R-Ohio, noted in his opening statement that "we must define the right roles for federal, state and local government."

That being said, he insisted on a standard framework for highly autonomous vehicles because “we can’t have cars that stop at state lines.” The purpose of the meeting was to begin crafting the framework that will ultimately lead to bipartisan legislation that regulates self-driving vehicles, he explained.

14 Legislation Drafts

These are the 14 proposed pieces of self-driving vehicle legislation that the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection subcommittee plans to compile into one legislative package.

Practical Automated Vehicle Exemptions Act Improving Mobility Access for Underserved Populations and Senior Citizens Advisory Council Act Let NHTSA Enforce Autonomous Vehicle Driving Regulations (LEAD’R) Act
Renewing Opportunities for Automated Vehicle Development Act Expanding Exemptions to Enable More Public Trust Act Maximizing Opportunities for Research and the Enhancement of Automated Vehicles Act Increasing Information and Notification to Foster Openness Regarding Automated Vehicle Matters to States Act Disability Mobility Advisory Council Act
Automated Driving System Cybersecurity Advisory Council Sharing Automated Vehicle Records with Everyone for Safety Act Highly Automated Vehicle Pre-Market Approval Reduces Opportunities for More People to Travel Safely Act Guarding Automakers Against Unfair Advantages Reported in Public Documents Act Managing Government Efforts to Minimize Autonomous Vehicle Obstruction Act Designating Each Car’s Automation Level Act

“The 14 bills before us today represent the starting point, by no means the ending point,” said subcommittee Chairwoman Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., adding that the bills were created solely by the committee's Republican majority members, but she and fellow members of the Democratic minority are willing to work with colleagues to craft the best legislation possible.

The bills in their current form rely on increasing the number of exemptions NHTSA is able to grant to vehicles that do not adhere to FMVSS, which were created with human drivers in mind. For example, there is a requirement for a steering wheel, acceleration and brake pedals. Increasing the number of exemptions the agency can grant has been requested by AV manufacturers, which are hampered in the amount of testing they are able to complete because of these exemptions. The suite of bills also codifies a national framework for federal legislation to overrule or pre-empt state regulations.

“The key elements of the majority approach are exemptions and state preemption,” she said. “Notably absent from these bills before us is any direction for rulemaking by NHTSA … exemptions are no substitute for updated safety standards.”

Frank Pallone, D-N.J., echoed the sentiments of Schakowsky. Frustrated that a representative from NHTSA was not able to testify, Pallone urged caution in moving forward with any legislation without the agency’s input.

“[We] should not move bills out of committee without hearing from the administration about how the bills could or would be implemented," Pallone said, and then described the “leadership vacuum” at the agency. He also mentioned how the budget released by the White House prescribes NHTSA an agenda driven by deregulation, which is counterproductive to the current challenge of regulating autonomous vehicles.

After the opening statements, the spotlight was on the panel composed of representatives from the automotive and technology industries, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and consumer protections groups. Making sure safety was the motivating factor in all policy decisions, certain members of the panel also spoke about avoiding a patchwork of regulations.

Mitch Bainwol, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, offered his support of the current package of bills. As a representative from the traditional automobile companies, Bainwol argued that the country needs a standard framework so auto companies can set uniform manufacturing settings. He along with other members of the panel applauded the proposed increase in the number of exemptions allowed by NHTSA.

A dissenting viewpoint came from Alan Morrison, associate dean for Public Interest and Public Service Law at the George Washington University Law School, who urged legislators to set clearer requirements by which exemptions from federal motor vehicle safety standards will be granted, if they plan to expand the limit.

Morrison also said he found the strategy relating to federal pre-emption of state laws perplexing. "I know of no law in which Congress has attempted to preclude states from acting when neither it nor any federal agency has taken any action in that subject area," he said.

This technology is transformative not only in terms of safety, but also increasing mobility options for underserved communities. In one exchange, David Strickland, spokesperson for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, acknowledged that there are 36 million Americans in the disabled community, and more than 20 million are able to work but are hampered by mobility obstacles. Similarly with an aging population, self-driving vehicles could prolong independence for seniors.

Some legislators questioned the panel on the level of consumer confidence. While several surveys have shown the hesitancy of the public to enter self-driving vehicles, Bainwol offered the perspective that the more exposed to self-driving technology people are, the more accepting they will be. He said he believes that the most common exposure will be through ride-sharing services, such as Lyft, Uber, Maven and Chariot. “AV technology will be available in less than five years,"he said, "and ubiquitous within 40.”

Because there are so many aspects surrounding the onset of autonomous vehicles to consider, Latta explained that "we want to make sure we get it right. [This] is a huge issue, so we need to make sure we get it right."

New York City Doubles Down on Tech-Focused Jobs, Plans Launch of Virtual and Augmented Reality Hub

June 27, 2017 - 05:30

A visionary is often someone who sees what others cannot, someone who imagines a possibility and pursues it. In New York City, the ability to see beyond reality and into a virtual reality is something leaders believe will be one of the next big industries for the city.

On June 27, officials from the city and various educational institutions announced their plans for a virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) lab within the New York University Tandon School of Engineering’s MakerSpace. The idea is to provide a space and “repository” for the collective AR and VR knowledge and allow it to blossom into startups, new opportunities and ultimately new jobs.   

Just last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio made headlines with the unveiling of a bold jobs plan focused on drawing in 100,000 good-paying jobs and bolstering the technology sectors within the city, with part of that plan centered on a $6 million infusion in to virtual and augmented reality. This lab is the embodiment of that multimillion-dollar investment.

As Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen said during her remarks, the lab will offer businesses and talent a space to build on the existing foundations within the city.

“I think it is fair to say this is probably the coolest thing happening in technology right now," she said. "It’s catching fire. It’s just amazing the way it touches so many different pieces of the tech world.”

From entertainment to the medical industry, the deputy mayor said the potential for VR and AR technology to grow out of New York-based businesses and startups is very real. “The applications of this are just really endless,” she said. 

The center will also have the core mission of making typically cost-prohibitive hardware and workspace available to the greater community, while providing access to the latest in public and private university research and development resources. By offering below-market rent, city officials are hopeful they will be able to attract innovative companies that might otherwise balk at the idea of New York City-based space.

James Patchett, president and CEO of the New York City Economic Development Corp., said despite the rosy jobs outlook, the city and its business community cannot afford to rest on their laurels, and must keep up with the rapid pace of technology.

As he explained, the lab offers the city the chance to keep that pace, rather than fall victim to technological changes. “Our economy is changing at an ever-increasing rate mostly because of technology and technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality," he said.

Worldwide, Patchett cited the VR/AR industry at north of $4.5 billion in investment. According to his figures, roughly $3.7 billion of that international investment resides in the United States, making the case that the industry is, indeed, here to stay. 

“It is my view that as long as we are thinking forward about these types of technology changes, we’re going to be the city that wins and gets the best jobs of the future," Patchett said, "and that means more great middle class job opportunities for New Yorkers."

Councilman Daniel Garodnick also voiced his support of the technology lab and associated investment, saying the technology sets the stage for the city — which he referred to as "Silicon Alley" — to go head to head with the likes of California’s Silicon Valley when it comes to the development of VR and AR technology.

Smart City 2.0: Shifting the Focus from Infrastructure to People

June 27, 2017 - 05:00

AUSTIN, Texas — 19,519. That is the number of cities that exist in the United States. Over the past decade, each one of those cities experienced major shifts brought on by changes in technology, business and overall consumer behavior.

And this week, the Smart Cities Connect Conference kicked off to unpack the latest trends, technologies and tools that cities are using to tackle some of these shifts. In fact, a major topic of conversation was what the next generation smart city — or Smart City 2.0 —  will look like.

Looking back, the smart city movement has been focused on the core infrastructure needed to support it (think broadband and sensors). This week, however, the conversation began to shift to an even more important element — people.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler, pictured above, alluded to this shift in his opening remarks when he explained Austin’s definition of a smart city.

“At its very core, a smart city is a city that has been able to look inside and identify what its challenges are — what its people and residents need to have the quality of life they want to have — and to craft unique solutions that enable the city and the community to deal with those challenges," he said. "That truly is what a smart city is.”

Additional validation of this approach came from Salesforce Chief Digital Evangelist Vala Afshar, who stressed that cities can look to the private sector for inspiration.

“Companies that are growing and obtaining market share have the customer at the center of their design thinking principles," he said. "And as you [the government] think about building and evolving smart cities, you have to have citizens at the center.”

Even with that knowledge, one of the biggest challenges for government is trying to identify what citizens' expectations are. And again, Afshar said, juridictions can look to the private sector to see that “citizens expect engagements that are personalized, immediate and intelligent.”

The math seems simple, companies incorporate those elements to keep customers and survive, and government agencies can use those same elements to more effectively serve and engage their citizens.

Take the town of Cary, N.C., where Innovation and Analytics Manager Reid Serozi is leveraging this people-centric approach with One Cary, an omni-channel government strategy for its citizens. Whether delivering citizen information through its Amazon Echo skill or through its main website, the town is focused on building the experience of government around its people and their needs.

Technology will remain a vital aspect of the smart cities conversation, and the backbone of how much of it will be delivered, but cities that focus and design technology around their people will be more prepared for the inevitable future.

Afshar’s closing words sum it up best: “Companies don’t disrupt, cities don’t disrupt," he said. "People disrupt.”

Michael Bloomberg Announces 3-Year, $200 Million American Cities Initiative

June 26, 2017 - 12:59

Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and former mayor of New York City, has announced the American Cities Initiative, a $200-million investment to be made over the next three years to help city governments to innovate and better serve residents with tech.

Bloomberg, who made the announcement at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Annual Meeting in Miami, connected this effort to a rising host of challenges faced by America’s cities, pointing to technological acceleration, a recent distancing from urban issues by the federal government, and the ongoing effects of climate change. As part of this initiative, $17.5 million in grants and technical assistance will go to participating cities, innovation experts will be deployed to assist the first 300 participating cities with one-day city hall training sessions, and much more.

“We are in the middle of a political era defined by Washington impotence, but as Washington has grown more dysfunctional, cities have begun to play a vital role in determining our nation’s reputation as a global superpower," Bloomberg said in a statement. "The American Cities Initiative will incentivize and support the innovative efforts of those cities paving the way for America's future.”

The first related investment will be a program called Mayors Challenge, which calls for participation from every city with more than 30,000 residents, aspiring to help governmental leadership tackle the most significant problems they face. This 2017 Mayors Challenge builds on previous efforts baring the same name that took place in the U.S. in 2013, Europe in 2014, and Latin America and the Caribbean in 2016.

Interested cities are encouraged to visit

Bloomberg Philanthropies has been instrumental in advancing tech and open data efforts in local governments in recent years, largely through its What Works Cities program, an initiative that pairs government agencies and mayors’ offices with university and nonprofit partners, also in the service of innovation.

IT Applicants Increased Tenfold During Hawaii's Pilot Partnership With LinkedIn

June 26, 2017 - 07:40

It’s pretty widely accepted by this point that state and local CIOs are facing an uphill battle when it comes to pulling new talent into their respective agencies. Either they can’t compete with the pay at places like Google or Amazon, or they just don’t have a workplace people are drawn to.

However desperate many will tell you they are, few are in the spot of Hawaii — geographically isolated with a considerable cost of living to contend with. And while it might be hard to feel sorry for anyone living and working in an island paradise, the fact of the matter is that the state has to work twice as hard to bring in qualified people.

The recruiting struggle led CIO Todd Nacapuy and the team at the Office of Enterprise Technology Services (ETS) to think outside the standard methods of hiring and embrace something a little different — a pilot partnership with the professional social network LinkedIn.

“Outside of the geographic challenges obviously that Hawaii has, we are always the No.1 or No.2 most expensive city in the U.S. to live in,” he told Government Technology. “But the bigger challenge is we don’t have many large industries here in Hawaii to support higher paying salaries like they do in San Francisco or New York. Most of our companies here, the largest ones are about 2,500 to 3,000 people, so we have a very different socio-economic climate …”

But even with the challenges of luring new talent to the public service in a city with a considerable cost of living, the six-month test run — that occured between October 2016 and April 2017 — garnered substantial results for ETS. During the previous year, the state had 29 open positions and was able to fill six of them, only receiving an average of six applications per position.

“A lot of times it’s called the cost of living in paradise, where you are going to make 20 to 25 percent less than you would in a comparable city on the mainland,” Nacapuy said. “That being said, obviously there are huge challenges, because then there is the state or public sector that is notorious for not being able to pay as much as the commercial sector can. You stack those two things against us, and trying to hire anybody in tech for the state of Hawaii becomes very, very challenging.”

With the LinkedIn pilot, the state agency was able to bring on 13 people and vastly increased the visibility of and application rate for each open spot — an average of 60 applicants per job.

“Through LinkedIn and this marketing campaign, we were able to hire 13 people in six months, which for the state is a lot. We were able to fill basically 42 percent of our vacancies in that six-month period using LinkedIn,” Nacapuy said.

By allowing a designated internal recruiter access to the suite of proprietary, data-driven tools, state officials are able to target talent based on their background and professional experience, sending direct InMail messages when a candidate really fits the ETS bill.

The inversion in the job seeker/employer relationship helped to not only target the right people, but also given the state more power to step away from the passive hiring processes of the past.

In trying to reach the right candidates, ETS also built up what the professional network calls the talent brand index, or what might otherwise be called brand recognition. As it stands after only a short pilot, ETS ranks at 62 percent talent brand index rating, compared to the next closest island-based brand at 19 percent.  

Though the partnership does not come without a price tag — which was not available at the time of the interview — the ETS official said the recruiting tool is far more cost-effective than hiring a consultant to track down qualified applicants.

Rather than pony up the cash to hire a headhunter — which can cost as much as 25 percent of the open position’s salary — Nacapuy said the LinkedIn pilot offered more control and engagement in an environment that is very competitive.

With the trial run complete, Nacapuy said that Gov. David Ige was pleased with the return on investment and that his agency will be recommending the LinkedIn service to other agencies with “hard-to-fill” positions. He hopes to take make the service live with the start of the new fiscal year, July 1.

Smart Cities Connect Conference Will Move from Austin, Texas, to Kansas City, Mo., Officials Say

June 26, 2017 - 07:30

After two years in Austin where it continues through Wednesday, June 28, the Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo and the co-located but separate U.S. Ignite Application Summit nonprofit will both relocate in 2018 from the Texas state capital to Kansas City, Mo., whose CIO has said it will be the nation’s smartest city within five years.

Famous for its jazz scene and barbecue prowess, the city in western Missouri has forged a pioneering relationship with Google Fiber in recent years and created a smart city zone downtown centered on a 2.2-mile line of smart streetcars that collect data for public websites.

Austin, like municipalities from Los Angeles to New York City, is also on its way to becoming a smart city, releasing a public-facing dashboard last year to track sustainability goals. In December, City Council members directed the city manager to form a Smart Cities Strategic Roadmap to inventory initiatives and set priorities. The city released a draft of the plan on Friday, June 23.

But Matthew Laudon, CEO of TechConnect, which spearheads private- and public-sector technology prospecting programs including the Smart Cities conference, said that despite the event’s freshman and sophomore editions happening in Austin, it was never designed to have a permanent home — but instead would rotate among progressive cities.

The 2018 Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo, will be March 26-29, 2018, Laudon told Government Technology via email, noting that the event’s move was to be announced on Monday, June 26 in Austin.

An extension of the Smart Cities Innovation Challenge that has been embedded in other TechConnect events over the past five years, Laudon said the conference repeated in Austin because the city was in the process of developing “quite a few” smart city initiatives and demonstrated a high level of involvement.

He told Government Technology that periodically changing venues helps showcase bleeding-edge municipal-level technology and solutions.

“I think whoever is the host city, it allows for visiting cities to really have an insight into their platforms and their best practices. As we’re looking at future cities and future locations, that’s a key component as well, figuring out who can tell good stories and present good solutions to these folks,” said Laudon, who noted that TechConnect will launch a Smart Cities Connect Fall Conference and Expo in Tampa, Fla., this October. 

Kansas City CIO Bob Bennett praised Austin’s work in bringing smart technology to bear on transportation and said it’s one of the jurisdictions that Kansas City strives to emulate on the issue. The conference, Bennett told Government Technology, combines “the best of the private-sector world along with the best of cities.”

“I think it’s probably the collisions both intentional and unintentional that occur in that environment. This is where because it’s by Smart Cities Connect, it’s all of the partners that participate in the ecosystem all in one place,” Bennett said.

Kate Garman, innovation policy advisor for the Kansas City Office of Innovation, told Government Technology that she’s excited to see at the Austin conference how the city has applied solutions and creativity to its challenges — and expects a similar reaction from visitors to next year’s Kansas City conference.

“After we host it, I think people will understand what we’re doing here more and focus on Kansas City a little bit more than they have,” Garman said, highlighting the city’s Crossroads Arts District, a nexus for startups, as one area visitors may find interesting.

Like Bennett, Chelsea Collier, editor-at-large for Smart Cities Connect, which creates content around this and other smart city events, said bringing the event to Kansas City will likely engage local start-ups that may not have been able to travel to Austin.

“Going to a different city, it exposes everyone to a new way that a city works. There’s all sorts of people that will attend and will gain exposure and people will have exposure to them,” Collier said.

Ted Lehr, IT data architect in business application services for the city of Austin, told Government Technology that hosting the event helped Austin bring “enough focused attention on what a lot of the community wanted to do” with technology, as well as to “build excitement and a sense that we have something real in Austin.”

“It’s made us smarter, but it’s made us ask better questions and has made us look for how we can be — one of the words that a city councilman used — more ‘efficient,’” Lehr added. “I think what it does is, it gave a platform for our policymakers, our politicians, one of several to start learning about this,” he continued, adding that it assisted “in terms of making things less abstract to policymakers.”

Los Angeles County Begins Outfitting Buses with Free Wi-Fi

June 26, 2017 - 07:00

If Los Angeles County is any indication, the latest trend in municipal transit seems to be adding Wi-Fi access to Metro buses. According to The Source, one of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’ blogs, the agency is rolling out a Wi-Fi pilot program to 150 buses to test signal strength, coverage area and unforeseen problems.

In order to gather performance data on all routes, the newly outfitted buses will be dispatched on randomly, treating all neighborhoods and geographic regions the same. The buses will allow riders greater freedom in staying connected to the outside world, whether it's students doing homework on a ride home or someone answering emails on their way to work.

According to the post, the Wi-Fi provided will be equivalent to 4G LTE, capable of providing reliable Internet browsing capabilities, but not HD streaming or large downloads. The service will not track individual smartphones that connect to the network.

Once connected to the service, users will hit a landing page that features a red "panic button" to summon Metro security 24/7, a Metro customer relations chat function and a map with real-time arrival information.

The agency plans on outfitting another 150 buses with Wi-Fi later this year. Following the initial 300-bus roll out, all county buses procured afterward will be equipped with Wi-Fi devices.

Other transportation agencies have outfitted buses, trains and bus stops with Wi-Fi.

While Wi-Fi on public transit seems to be an obvious draw to ease congestion by enticing drivers toward mass transit, some data suggests otherwise. According to a 2016 report by TransitCenter, riders are more interested in frequency, reliability and shorter travel times. Transit riders say the least important improvements are power outlets and Wi-Fi (out of a list of a dozen potential service improvements).

Government's Millennial Workforce Problem

June 26, 2017 - 06:00

Government tech shops have long grappled with an aging workforce and how to recruit more young people to work in their offices.

In recent years, the search for younger talent has taken on something of a different tone as governments talk about dramatic changes to the way they handle things like procurement and cloud adoption. As agencies look to technology to change the way they do business, they inevitably run into conversations about changing an office culture based around the old way of doing things — the foundation of which is often rooted in older workers who have been doing things the same way for years.

Conversations about just how to bring in more young people aside, the Center for Digital Government* has brought together some data to begin to understand the problem. Drawing on 2017 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the center was able to compare the makeup of the public-sector workforce to the private sector.

Looking at three generations of workers — defined using the Pew Research Center’s birth year ranges for those generations — the center found the starkest gap in the millennial bracket. This youngest group of workers made up 27 percent of the public sector workforce, compared with 38 percent for the private sector.

More detail is in the graphic above.

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.

How 3 Jurisdictions Are Using Tech to Bolster the Health of Trees in Their Communities

June 23, 2017 - 08:10

I’m beautiful / I’m nasty / and I’m coming to kill your ash tree.

So goes the infectious refrain of a hip-hop YouTube video that was created by a collaboration between the Denver Botanic Gardens, a nonprofit media group and Jonny 5 of the Flobots, the artists behind 2007 hit single Handlebars. Why, you may wonder, would these three seemingly disparate entities come together to create a song about murderous threats to ash trees?

Well, as it turns out this video is just one of many efforts taking place across the country as municipal governments and related groups seek to use tech to bolster the health of trees in their communities. While Denver made a catchy, informative and fun bit of potentially viral marketing aimed at raising awareness, work elsewhere is taking different approaches. What they all have in common, however, is they are trying to find new ways to save trees and keep our city spaces greener.

The Denver effort is arguably the most accessible. The video is a blast, with Jonny 5 dressing as an emerald ash borer (an insect that poses a mortal threat to trees) and terrorizing a community, specifically its trees and by extension its people. This video has so far been viewed more than 3,000 times, a high number considering its ultimately about tree maladies.

The idea to create it came while officials with the Denver Botanic Gardens were considering an exhibit on their grounds to spread awareness about the threat that emerald ash borers posed to local trees. During meetings about this, they found themselves referring to the bug by its abbreviation, EAB, and someone jokingly said, “down with EAB,” but in the cadence of the famous Naughty By Nature lyric, “down with O.P.P.”

They joked that they should make a hip-hop video about this. Then it stopped being a joke, and they actually did it, said Jen Tobias, associate director of exhibitions with the Denver Botanical Gardens. By creating the video, they used tech to generate content they could share across many digital mediums, thereby likely reaching more people than would have seen a physical exhibit at the gardens, as well as populations who don’t generally visit the site.

“We’re definitely pleased with the attention it’s gotten,” Tobias said. “When we were discussing the exhibit, we were trying to think of something that would make it fun and interesting. Invasive tree beetles are not the most sexy content for an exhibition. We were trying to think of something to make it a little more fun, and to spread the word more effectively.”

They then began collaborating with the Open Media Foundation, which works to tell nonprofits’ stories across different mediums, and Jonny 5 of the Flobots, who are local to Denver and involved in activism. Soon the video was born.

Rachel Murray, interpretation and evaluation director at Denver Botanic Gardens, said they have had requests for the video from other jurisdictions, because the emerald ash borer is not native or limited to Colorado.

“It’s been really successful for something that maybe an exhibition would not be engaging for,” Murray said, “and I definitely think this kind of content can have a really far reach, especially when it’s kind of fun and funny and something that people want to share.”

Denver isn’t the only city with agencies working to preserve its trees. In Washington, D.C., the local government recently unveiled a new app aimed primarily at showing residents the locations of young trees in need of watering.

Since the 1800s, Washington has laid claim to the moniker “city of trees,” which also means it has a large and experienced urban forestry division, something smaller cities in recent economic times are said to lack. Earl Eutsler, associate director of the urban forestry division, said there is real civic pride in the nation’s capital about its trees, and often citizens want to help.

Helping, however, can be dangerous, especially when it comes to pruning trees. But there are safer ways to help, and the new platform, dubbed the DC Tree Watering App, seeks to foster public awareness about this and also provide open data about which young trees are in need of a drink.

“There can at times be challenges making sure we engage the public as fully as possible in what we’re doing, and in getting them involved and having them help,” Eutsler said. “The easiest, lowest-cost way for the public to help is to help water newly planted trees. They’re the most vulnerable trees in the population, and it’s the lowest barrier to entry in terms of engaging with their own trees, but a lot of people aren’t aware of how to do it and which trees need the help.”

The public can now download the app that developers built, and they can use it to find thirsty trees. They can also log their own data about when they last watered a tree, so other volunteer arborists can view when a tree was last cared for.

The idea is twofold: first seeking to keep young trees healthy, and second aiming to get the public vested in what the forestry division does, opening up a new channel between citizens and the department’s staff.

The app launched in early June and has so far been viewed more than 2,000 times. Eutsler said that as the summer goes on, he’ll use it to identify which parts of the city are best for using an app to engage the population and which parts of the city need a different method of communication.

Eutsler and his cohort can also update the map in real time, showing the city when and where a new tree is being planted. But perhaps the most accessible feature is a story map. The brainchild of staff arborist John O’Neil, it highlights about 55 different species of street trees, so people can use their phones to learn all about the unique varieties of vegetation in front of their homes all throughout the city. The map even notes when a type of tree has been featured in prominent literature and things like that.

To demonstrate the city’s commitment to its young trees even further, the app launched with Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser symbolically watering a tree.

The future of tech innovation is rosy as well. In fact, a group of engineers at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena is working to build software that would allow municipal governments to more efficiently catalog and identify every last tree within their jurisdictions.

This effort is led by Pietro Perona, Caltech’s Allen E. Puckett professor of electrical engineering, who previously developed an app that can identify about 550 species of birds. Perona’s expertise is taking human expertise and translating it for machines, which can then be used by those who lack the knowledge to identify things, things like trees and birds.

Perona and the graduate students he works with have built technology that can use Google Earth and Google Street View to identify and count urban trees. They are, however, still trying to figure out how best to scale that technology and to navigate the procurement process with local governments.

Perona said that as city governments grappled with economic challenges, long-standing urban forestry divisions are often shrunk in favor of hiring subcontractors, which may effectively prune or water trees, but don’t wield the same extensive and institutional expertise that in-house arborists might. This technology, however, could provide municipal governments with some of what they’ve lost.

“The technology we produce is filling a gap,” Perona said.

Their technology could also one day make it easier for cities to share open data about their trees with the public. The only thing currently stopping them is economics.

“Our dream would be that we could give all this information for free to all the towns,” Perona said.

For more information about the tech Perona and company have developed, government agencies are encouraged to email David Hall at

Will California’s New Travel Ban To Named States Affect Government Technology Partnerships?

June 23, 2017 - 08:00

Back in January 2017, a new law went into effect in California that banned state government employees and officials from using tax dollars to travel to states with laws it deemed discriminatory in regards to LGBT rights — starting with Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.

On Thursday, June 22, 2017, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that the list had doubled. The ban on state-funded and state-sponsored travel now includes Alabama, Kentucky, South Dakota and Texas.

In making the announcement, CA Attorney General Becerra said, "Our country has made great strides in dismantling prejudicial laws that have deprived too many of our fellow Americans of their precious rights. Sadly, that is not the case in all parts of our nation, even in the 21st century. I am announcing today that I am adding four states to the list of states where California-funded or sponsored travel will be restricted on account of the discriminatory nature of laws enacted by those states.” 

According to the press release: “AB 1887 prohibits state-funded and state-sponsored travel to states with laws that authorize or require discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression or against same-sex couples or their families. The California legislation went into effect on January 1, 2017. This restriction applies to state agencies, departments, boards, authorities, and commissions, including an agency, department, board, authority, or commission of the University of California, the Board of Regents of the University of California, and the California State University.”

Negative Reactions From Banned States

The reaction from the affected states was swift and predictably negative. According to the Louisville

 In Kentucky, the ban has to do with a religious freedom law signed by Gov. Matt Bevin.

Woody Maglinger, press secretary for Bevin's office, called the California Attorney General's actions hypocritical in a statement emailed to the Courier-Journal. 

"It is fascinating that the very same West Coast liberals who rail against the president’s executive order, that protects our nation from foreign terrorists, have now contrived their own travel ban aimed at punishing states who don’t fall in lockstep with their far-left political ideology," the statement said. 

According to the San Jose Mercury News:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott responded to the news with a biting rebuke in a statement playing to his state’s noisy economic rivalry with the Golden State.

 “California may be able to stop their state employees, but they can’t stop all the businesses that are fleeing over taxation and regulation and relocating to Texas,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman told CBS Dallas.

While the motivations behind the move are understandable, the ban could be tricky to implement — and, potentially, trigger political retribution, said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.

“California is not held in high esteem in much of the country,” Pitney said. “One could see legislatures in other states supporting some kind of retaliatory action. It would be quite popular with the Republican electorate.”

The Houston Chronicle reported:  “(Texas Governor) Abbott aides and legislative leaders dissed the California move as hollow, saying that if that if the Golden State is so concerned about discrimination and human rights outside its borders, Gov. Jerry Brown should not have recently visited China.”

Immediate Impact Is Unclear

Trying to gauge the immediate nationwide impact of the travel ban is difficult. As the Courier-Journal article points out, “It's unclear what practical effect California's travel ban will have. The state law contains exemptions for some trips, such as travel needed to enforce California law and to honor contracts made before 2017. Travel to conferences or out-of-state training are examples of trips that could be blocked. Becerra's office couldn't provide information about how often state employees have visited the newly banned states.” reported that the California ban won't stop Alabama from hosting Fresno State, since the contract was already in place. However, Cal won’t schedule future Kansas, North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee trips due to LGBT discrimination laws in each state reported that CA State’s travel ban may trip up intercollegiate athletic teams – including recruiting trips and other aspects of cross-state travel.

When California’s ban took effect in January, the Cal athletic department issued a statement saying: “Our intent is to support our student-athletes in their right to participate in NCAA postseason competition should they be assigned to a restricted state.”

But it’s not clear how they could do that, short of raising private donations to support not only travel costs, but also salaries for coaches and staff, and potentially insurance.

Meanwhile, Cal had been in preliminary talks for a men’s basketball series with the University of Kansas in January, when the travel ban that included Kansas took effect.

“Cal got back to us and told us the state ban would prevent it,” said Jim Marchiony, a spokesman for KU athletics.

Will State and Local Government Technology Partnerships Be Impacted? 

Many are wondering: will this travel ban affect technology partnerships, conferences, cybersecurity efforts and/or other cooperative government and private sector arrangements?

Sadly, I think it will impact public-private partnerships in several ways. Initially, this impact may be minor, but it could grow substantially depending on a variety of factors – such as whether other states retaliate. 

For example, the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) is scheduled to meet in Austin, Texas, this October, 2017. Will California state officials be able to attend? I certainly hope our respected government technology colleagues will be allowed to be there and offer their presentations and respected input. If not, California's leadership and influence in areas ranging from autonomous vehicles to smart cities to artificial intelligence to procurement reform will be negatively affected. 

Similar topics will arise if leaders from California Universities cannot present their research findings at conferences and events around the country in the named states.

Another question is whether other states and/or countries retaliate in some, such as forbidding their government staff from traveling to events or meetings in California. Numerous national (and global) technology and cybersecurity events are held in California.

Could events like the RSA Conference in San Francisco, which is the largest cybersecurity conference in the world, be impacted in 2018? Could non-government organizations organize boycotts of technology or other conferences in California? Is this the beginning of a new chapter in US culture wars between conservative and liberal states? Will future historians via these recent actions as a cultural turning point?

Answer: I certainly hope not. Perhaps some court will overturn this CA travel ban, in the same way that courts have stopped President Trump’s Executive Orders on travel to the USA from certain overseas countries. This negative rhetoric is bound to flow over into other areas of government cooperation between state and local governments. But only time will tell for sure.

My Perspective 

No doubt, most states have instituted out-of-state travel bans at some point. In Michigan government, state employees faced out-of-state travel restrictions for budget reasons during several years of furlough days such as in 2009. However, those bans focused on budget savings and included all out-of-state travel – and not just specific states that passed laws that Michigan legislators disagreed with.

With the LA Times, my personal view is that that this government travel ban in California is ill-conceived. The LA Times ended their opinion piece like this:

“Boycotts have a long and venerable history of success: Californians can look back with pride on the table-grape boycott of the 1960s that led to better working conditions for farmhands. Like that campaign, the best boycotts do more than rattle sabers. They are well-targeted and have a meaningful effect. They don’t carry a list of exemptions and exceptions, and they stand a good chance of bringing about change with a low risk of retaliation and unintended consequences. California’s well-intended boycott on behalf of LGBTQ rights meets none of these standards.”

I respectfully understand that the CA legislators are trying to make a point, but they cannot change the laws in other states by implementing these government employee travel bans to named states. These travel bans are more likely to inflame cross-state tensions even further, especially if even more states are added to the California list.

Regardless of whether you support the new laws in these eight states for religious liberties or whether you believe these laws are unfairly discriminatory, this travel ban is still a bad idea in my opinion. It may lead to a coalition of states that oppose California laws and take action, while other states may join with California.

If this trend continues, partnerships and cooperative relationships between a myriad of public and private institutions across the country will be negatively impacted. The situation could get much worse if other states counter with their own travel bans to California, as State Rep. Dustin Burrows of Texas says he would like to do.

Final Thoughts

In March 2016, I wrote an article entitled: Could the election be hacked?  I was mocked in a few social media channels by some industry colleagues who said I was being an alarmist by raising the hacking issue at that time for the upcoming 2016 Presidential election. 

No doubt, these two issues are very different, but I feel the same level of concern about the potential for this CA travel ban situation to escalate and impact state government business and mutual cooperation in business and technology areas nationwide.

I truly hope that California will back down and lift their travel ban to these states before the situation moves in an untold number of negative directions – to the detriment of our entire nation.


Note: This blog contains my personal viewpoint on this CA travel ban issue. These views expressed may or may not be consistent with the opinions of Government Technology Magazine or eRepublic leadership. 


Employee 'Phishing' Expeditions Among States' Tools for Cybersecurity Awareness

June 23, 2017 - 08:00

Phishing and spear-phishing — two simplistic examples of cyberattacks well-known in the public sector — may remain popular indefinitely, but state cybersecurity personnel are battling the bad actors with strategies aimed at the same soft target: the human mind.

Neither form of email attack — the more generic phishing, which seeks personal financial information, or spearphishing, which is more targeted and frequently carries attached malware — is new.

But this spring, authors of the Symantec 2017 Internet Security Threat Report found email attacks increased 68 percent in 2016, while phishing attacks climbed nearly 41 percent.

Officials in Missouri and Washington state acknowledged the sustained threat that each of the attacks presents to the tens of thousands of state employees who may be vulnerable.

Washington Chief Information Security Officer Agnes Kirk pointed out that following the success of the May 12 WannaCry ransomware attack, dark Web entrepreneurs launched a subscription service offering would-be hackers access to a virus or hacking “tool of the month.”

“I think as long as you have that kind of business model on the dark Web I don’t see anything declining,” Kirk said.

At Government Technology's Missouri Digital Government Summit earlier this month, state CISO Michael Roling said so-called “fast thinking” continues to expose his state’s roughly 40,000 vulnerable government employees to phishing attacks.

“Phishing is really no different than any other classic swindle. They’re trying to misguide the user into doing something they wouldn’t normally do,” Roling said at the event. “It’s that knee-jerk reaction, it’s that gut instinct when we see something. A lot of times they use fear to evoke that thinking.”

But both CISOs said their agencies continue to warn staffers of the dangers of fast thinking with education, humor and assessments modeled after classic phishing expeditions to test staff members’ resolve.

In Missouri, Roling said the Cybersecurity Awareness Program features multiple activities and subprograms, but two key elements are monthly awareness lessons of 10 to 15 minutes each, and ongoing participation charts ranking agencies on which has the most educated employees.

Staffers earn points for completing lessons — and they earn more points for finishing them soon after their monthly release — and contribute to their agency’s overall ranking. The Information Technology Services Division is currently “barely edging out the second-place agency,” Roling joked, in a friendly rivalry that has seen the two agencies exchange rankings before.

Agencies with lower scores are sent “detailed information,” the CISO said, about which employees haven’t completed lessons.

But perhaps ITSD’s signature cybersecurity training activity is its end-user awareness assessments, which happen every four to six weeks — and during which security folk have “phished” employees with emails designed to be just as irresistible as the genuine article.

In place for about a year, this component of the program generated “strong reactions” among those who clicked, ranging from “feeling ashamed to being angry,” Roling said, emphasizing ITSD’s goal was only to boost awareness of what actual attacks look like.

One real-world strategy Missouri ITSD hasn’t employed yet is “phishing” via telephone call — occasionally a precursor to an online hacking campaign.

But about a year ago, in an assessment with genuine parallels to successful hacks, the agency left several pocket-size USB “sticks” outside its primary building in Jefferson City, labeled to suggest they might contain interesting or sensitive data.

“What’s amazing about it was when we did, every single USB storage device came right back to us. We were very impressed,” Roling said.

In Washington, Kirk said her agency spearheaded a similar assessment around USB drives left in random places, but around 95 percent of employees who were “phished” simply returned the devices to Information Technology.

Her agency emails daily tips on how to avoid being compromised or hacked, distributes informational cybersecurity awareness reports and holds face-to-face sessions featuring anonymized, real-life examples to remind staffers they need to practice safe Internet use at home and at work.

Anecdotes are what people remember, Kirk said, indicating that if employees are “safer at home, they’ll be safer at work. It isn’t all or nothing.”

For Cyberawareness Month in October, the CISO said the state “gamified” an awareness program in which employees who answered questions testing their security best practices were entered into a weekly prize pool. Feedback from staffers indicated they enjoyed comparing answers and the event may be repeated.

The state has mandatory end-user security awareness training, but arguably a more dramatic educational component is its use of “phishing” telephone calls, a strategy used to test employees at one of the state’s smaller but more public-facing agencies, Kirk said.

The calls, a targeted event, came at the suggestion of people within the agency who requested cybersecurity officials conduct the test following a security assessment.

“I think we don’t have the bandwidth to do a significant amount of it, but training a few key people that are first in line to get the calls can be really critical. These people can train others,” Kirk said. “That will be something we’ll look at again.”

Kirk, whose state pioneered SecureAccess Washington, a single sign-on public gateway to secured applications in 2004, said phishing trends up and down, with the state somewhat insulated by its ability to track and block questionable emails.

She and Roling agreed change and humans’ innate curiosity are among the only constants on the cybersecurity landscape, and emphasized that top-down buy-in and manageability are key to implementing a successful awareness program.

“I would say don’t try to boil the ocean. Start with a small campaign," Kirk said. "When you demonstrate value it makes it way easier to get others on-board."

During the first year of Missouri’s program, Roling said officials did get some pushback, “but because of that top-down buy-in, which is so critical for any awareness program, they all understood the value of the mission we were trying to carry out.”

That, he added, “was absolutely vital.”

Oklahoma CIO Raises Concerns About Duplicative Cybersecurity Efforts Stemming From Federal Mandates

June 22, 2017 - 15:00

"Voluminous," "disjointed" and "complex" were just a few of the words Oklahoma CIO James “Bo” Reese used to describe the federal cybersecurity regulations facing states in written testimony before a U.S. Senate committee June 21.

Reese, who also serves as the vice president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), discussed some of the issues states face when complying with federal cybersecurity regulation with members of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Wednesday morning.

While industry and federal government experts were also present, Reese focused his testimony on the disjointed and time-consuming task of coordinating with various federal agencies charged with the oversight of state cybersecurity compliance.

In his testimony, the CIO voiced concerns about duplicative efforts that arise out of federal mandates — especially where the acceptance or administration of federal grant funds were concerned.

“Because state CIOs deliver enterprise IT services to state agencies that administer federal programs or receive federal funds or grants, state CIOs and the larger IT enterprise must also comply with and abide by federal data security regulations that are imposed on those state agencies,” he said in his written statement. “Thus, state CIOs find themselves operating in an increasingly complex regulatory environment driven by disjointed federal regulations.”

Reese said the federal audits and regulation mean states are often shoehorned into making compliance-based decisions rather than decisions based on a strategic need.

The need to comply with audit findings, which can vary widely depending on the federal agency conducting them, forces states to rush to mitigate for the short term instead of the fixing a larger problem that might exist.

“We find the scenario kind of like a well-trained physician who’s gone to school for many years and practiced and wants to go heal people, and he finds himself in a practice where he is being told, ‘Just put a Band-Aid on it and move on. You don’t have time to treat the illness. You’ve got to just put a Band-Aid on it,’" he said. "Our cybersecurity folks feel like that is what they are being told, ‘Put a Band-Aid on it. Check the box. Move on.’”

When asked what could be done to harmonize and normalize the regulations imposed by the federal government, the lack of a cohesive structure or chain of communication was an issue raised by Reese and his industry and federal colleagues.

“This approach is problematic for state government cybersecurity because it encourages state CIOs to make check-the-box compliance investments instead of ones based on risk, which is the more secure approach to managing sensitive data,” he said.

Though Oklahoma state government recently underwent a significant consolidation of its IT assets, Reese said the efficiencies created as a result are lost when the new structure is not recognized by federal partners, who carry on as if silos were still in place.

“Even though many federal regulations are similar in nature in that they aim to protect high-risk information, they are mostly duplicative and have minor differences, which can obscure the goal of IT consolidation,” he said. “The whole point of which is to streamline IT applications and simplify the enterprise IT environment to produce savings for tax payers.”

With regard to how he believed federal regulation and oversight could be adjusted to improve the process of state-federal collaboration, Reese said reconciling the regulations among oversight agencies and communications channels would be ideal. 

Can Technology Help Stop the Opioid Crisis? (Industry Perspective)

June 22, 2017 - 11:30

It’s a well-known fact that much of the country is facing an opioid crisis. Many state and local governments are already fighting this battle through myriad health and law enforcement resources. But there’s more that state and local governments can do to battle the crisis through the use of technology — specifically, analytics.

State and local governments collect a great deal of data on drug usage, overdoses, deaths and treatment through their law enforcement and health and human services activities. The problem lies with how they are using that data or, in many cases, not using that data to its full potential. This is where state and local governments could be turning to data analytics solutions for help.

Success stories 

A prime example of analytics being used to improve state and health response is in Indiana. The state rolled out a crime dashboard that provides a heat map of opioid overdoses from information collected by health professionals as well forensics labs. This dashboard is being used to deploy law enforcement personnel to areas hardest hit with overdoses and ensure they have medicine on hand to counter the effects of the drugs.

Indiana is not alone. Massachusetts is looking to do something similar by leveraging the data it already has to inform decision-making around resource deployment and funding.

State and local governments already collect massive amounts of health data through their prescription drug monitoring systems. Every state except Missouri has a prescription drug monitoring system, and 37 of these 49 states share their data with a national system called PMP InterConnect from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. While sharing this data on a national level is a crucial first step, there are some additional steps that individual states can take to improve the response to this crisis.

What’s missing? 

Prescription drug monitoring databases collect information on patients who are prescribed opioid medication, including things like the type of medication, prescribing doctor and frequency. The goal of databases like these is to catch people who are “doctor shopping” or doctors who are prescribing opioids too frequently.

However, on their own, these databases are limited to these functions. If state and local governments were to combine information from multiple sources, say prescription drug monitoring databases, welfare databases and law enforcement databases, governments could compile a much richer picture of the crisis and start to make more informed and perhaps more proactive decisions.

Governments can provide those connections through analytics tools. Look at other states that have been able to identify and track the crisis from drug acquisition through treatment. Indiana is a great example for other states to follow. By coordinating data from multiple governments at both the state and local levels, Indiana was able to create a comprehensive view that the Governor’s Drug Abuse Task Force can use to attack the issue.

Where better technology and collaboration come in

States can turn to the IT industry for data coordination and data analysis best practices and solutions. Just collecting and storing the data is not enough to make impactful decisions on how and where to deploy resources. Data integration and analysis technologies are also needed. 

Given the historically siloed nature of government operations, this is no small task. State and local government agencies can be reluctant to share information with each other. Garnering the support from multi-stakeholder organizations like a task force or a joint committee can be the key to success as seen in Indiana.

In the absence of a task force, as many state and local governments haven’t formed this type of support, industry should work to bring together IT, law enforcement and health professionals. Government should also look to the IT sector to work as a broker to coordinate the requirements and develop a cohesive strategy that helps everyone come together in a unified approach. 

Rachel Eckert is a consultant on immixGroup’s Market Intelligence team and specializes in IT trends in state and local government and education.

What’s New In Civic Tech: Code for America's Jennifer Pahlka Attends Trump’s Tech Meeting

June 22, 2017 - 06:30

Code for America Founder and Executive Director Jennifer Pahlka — who worked as U.S. deputy chief technology officer under President Barack Obama — attended a tech meeting at the White House on June 19 with President Donald Trump. And she wrote a piece in The Washington Post to explain why she was doing so.

The meeting was held by the American Technology Council, established by executive order in May, and it sought to address a range of issues, including procurement reform, cloud computing, and user-centered design —  all topics that matter deeply, enough to put Pahlka in a room with a president whose “agenda and behavior are deeply disturbing,” Pahlka wrote.

To elaborate further on her decision, Pahlka described recent ways in which tech progress by government has made differences in real people’s lives, including California going from an online food stamp application that took an hour and required use of a laptop or desktop, to a version one can access with a smartphone and finish in seven minutes.

“I am attending on behalf of the thousands of civil servants around this country who continue to improve government digital services to make sure they better serve every single American,” Pahlka wrote. “I would not be attending this meeting if it were not dedicated to the issues that define Code for America and our mission. To the tech CEOs who are joining me in Washington, I ask that you speak up for the people for whom government works least now. Join me in making the digital services agenda about serving all Americans equally with dignity.”

After the meeting, Pahlka tweeted that she would soon write about what transpired. She then went on to retweet information about a lack of transparency in regard to the ongoing health-care bill Trump has endorsed.

Boston Adds Broadband Access to Development Review Process

In a move that seems to put broadband in the same realm of importance as electricity, water and gas, Boston is adding a new questionnaire to its development review process aimed at collecting info on Internet connectivity plans for new construction, according to the nonprofit site Next City.

While the questionnaire will have no regulatory power, it does make planning for broadband access an early part of the city’s building review process, thereby encouraging all developers to consider Internet provider competition and infrastructure resiliency before designs for construction are approved.

Anne Schwieger, Boston’s broadband and digital equity advocate, told Next City that this could impact the scale of both the building and the city, because reliable Internet is a valuable enticement for companies looking to launch or expand within the city, especially the tech startups that most economic development officials crave.

Schwieger said until recently, most Bostonians had only one option for Internet providers, a situation that often means high prices and lacking service. The questionnaire could encourage developers to proactively reach out to multiple Internet service providers themselves, thus increasing competition and benefiting residents in the form of price drops. Price competition is widely considered a key part of fostering digital equity, an increasingly prominent issue among cities looking to improve the lives of residents with tech, which in 2017 is basically all cities.

What Works Cities Releases Report About Tangible Ways Local Governments Are Changing Lives

What Works Cities, a Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative that pairs government agencies and mayors’ offices with university and nonprofit partners in the service of innovation, has compiled a 16-page report about the ways that local governments are changing lives.

The report, dubbed What Works Cities, How Local Governments Are Changing Lives, showcases the progress that stakeholders have made working toward the initiative's stated goal of ultimately helping residents thrive and reach their full potentials.

“We are proud to showcase here the progress of our cities in driving better outcomes for their residents,” What Works Cities Executive Director Simone Brody wrote in the report. “They are doing this by using data and analytical thinking to set goals, inform how they make decisions and gather evidence to enable creativity and innovation. What works, and what doesn’t? What could work better? These are the questions that our cities are always asking.”

The report comes shortly after Michael Bloomberg announced the launch of What Works Cities Certification that provides clarity by identifying and endorsing clear, expert-tested indicators of cities’ data-driven programs and policies. In total, 200 cities have applied to the program.

The recent report includes a range of info, including how many people live in cities that participate in the initiative — 26 million — and how much money the annual budgets of these cities contain — about $92 billion. There is, of course, a good deal more info than that, including resident testimonials, stories about the efforts of individual jurisdictions, and photos of mayors out in the field.

Illinois Department of Agriculture Uses Tech to Improve Services

The Illinois Department of Agriculture, which processes more than 70,000 licenses each year for the state’s farmers, producers, agribusinesses and others, has begun a pilot program to offer online renewals for licenses granted by its Bureau of Animal Health and Welfare.

In a blog touting this functionality, the department wrote that the bureau, which is the first under its supervision to offer paperless renewals, issues more than 5,200 licenses each year in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act. In an effort to facilitate ease of use among users, developers have included instructions and a tutorial with license reminder notices.

"Businesses these days are looking for ways to be more efficient and effective with their time and resources," said Ag Director Raymond Poe in the blog. "Our goal should be to make doing business in the state of Illinois easier, not more difficult. Utilizing digital technology, we will be able to increase efficiencies for all parties, reduce costs and provide a positive experience for our customers."

The department also wrote that in the coming months, there are plans to extend this online license renewal pilot to other bureaus under its supervision.