If we ran IT that served the public, we would run it like Mayor Fenty and Vivek Kundra

I wrote this letter to the Washington Post (letters@washpost.com) after reading their Endorsement for Mayor Fenty in the upcoming election:

In your recent endorsement for Mayor Fenty ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/30/AR2010073003145.html ), something I did not see mentioned was what Mayor Fenty did with Information Technology.  I am a part-time MBA student of the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business and in a previous semester, I did a paper on the DC Government’s Office of the CTO (OCTO as they call themselves) for a class project.  The current Federal CIO Vivek Kundra was the DC CTO prior to his role and it was what Mr. Kundra did with IT in DC that led him to his promotion.  When Mr. Kundra left the DC Government, Chris Willey became the interim CTO.  And since he was a Smith Alum, It was through him that I had the chance to do my paper on this subject and find out what exactly Mayor Fenty and Vivek Kundra did together.

The objective was to foster better relations with the public by promoting transparency and access of data to the public.  The start of this initiative was in 2007 after Mayor Fenty became mayor.  In his experience as a councilman, he felt there was not enough accessible data for the government and public.  He wanted uncompromised, raw data for the public.  A short time later he brought Vivek Kundra aboard and they got started on Mr. Fenty’s initiatives.  First CAPSTAT (modeled after Baltimore’s Citistat) was formed.  These were one-hour sessions that were videocast online that occurred at least once a week where Mayor Fenty and executives were brought in to discuss performance and ways to improve.

Next they took the data from the city’s data warehouse (CityDW) (an IT initiative started during Mayor Williams’s term) and made it public using feeds.  This was a worry because of the data not being clean and easily leading to misinterpretation.  However, Mr. Fenty insisted on this still being carried out.

In late 2008, after realizing that ways to use the data feeds were limited, the Apps for Democracy contest was held to come up with a solution.  This $50,000 contest is estimated to have saved $2.6 million in internal development costs.  Another contest was held in 2009.  Now there is a DC App store.

The Harvard University’s Ash Institute recognized as the winner of the 2009 Innovations in American Government Award in Urban Policy.  The award is very appropriate because it was started in 1985 as a result of concern about trust of government.

Mr. Willey informed me of next steps to create a web-based marketplace where the buyer would be the DC Government and the seller would be the public.  Through this, the DC Government can put needs in a public sphere (for example, Mr. Willey specifically mentions a data catalogue need he has) and consider solutions from more sources.  Some solutions could even be free, allowing the government to take advantage of developers who have a degree of citizenship and e-volunteerism.

One last thing worth mentioning is that Mayor Fenty also pushed OCTO’s role by making them manage the School System’s IT.  This helped him marry his two initiatives: Transparency and education reform.

Shahryar Rizvi
IT Specialist, U.S. Census Bureau
University of Maryland, Smith School of Business c/o 2010

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