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Courtesy of @susan_fedynak, from Instagram

Tens of millions of people are suddenly out of work. Your Lyft driver, your hairdresser, your barista, the waiters at your favorite restaurant, and countless others have lost their sources of income because of the COVID-19 crisis. In moments like this, government must act, and it has, at least, taken the first step. In March, Congress created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program as a part of the CARES Act, which extends benefits to more people than have ever been eligible before, such as gig workers and self-employed people.

The problem is that states are struggling mightily to deliver PUA. People need this help, and they’re increasingly going to need it fast: nearly 70 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings, and 45 percent have nothing saved. At present, only a handful of states are accepting applications and processing payouts for PUA. States need to figure this out at a dramatically faster pace than they’ve had to in the past, where policy changes can take years to get translated into a delivery capacity. …


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AKA Help me with my book!

Digital was supposed to make things better. Platforms for peer-to-peer communication like Facebook and Twitter were supposed to connect and unite us and help us understand each other, ultimately ushering in an era of world peace, love, and understanding. They have done some wonderful things, but if peace, love, and understanding were the goal, we seem to have made some poor choices along the way. But digital has always held another seemingly more straightforward promise: easing the burden of complex information coordination tasks, like, for example, the administration of government programs. …


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This is the time of year when many people make donations to charities. This year it’s more overwhelming than ever. There are so many needs, so many clear and present threats — to our planet, to justice, to human dignity and human life. My family and I are going to write checks to more organizations than ever, and will wrap it up feeling like there are so many more we still want to help.

And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that underpinning all of these needs is the erosion of the public’s faith in democracy. Why has the voting public, in the US and elsewhere, installed populists leading us off a cliff? While there is no single reason, it’s undeniable that government just isn’t working for far too many people in these countries, including ours. Economic policies are serving other interests, our justice system is not truly just, and interacting with government too often requires the patience of a saint. It’s more than an inconvenience — many of the same dysfunctions that result in long waits at the post office or the DMV also contribute to high rates of incarceration and low rates of participation in critical safety net programs, outcomes that affect us all as taxpayers and concerned citizens and often affect vulnerable people tragically. When these dysfunctions persist at scale, people get frustrated with more than just our government functions — they start to accept and even admire those who flout our system of government. …


I founded Code for America in 2009 with the hope that we could use the principles and practices of the digital age to help government work better. I was obsessed with the idea that by bringing a user-centered, data-driven, and iterative approach into government we could truly make it work for and by the people. And by doing so we would help create a more just and equitable society.

Ten years later, I’m still obsessed with that idea. But today, I’m joined by 75 full time staff, 25,000 volunteers around the country, and tens of thousands of public servants. We have continued to prove that government can work in 2019. …


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Credit to Jake Solomon and Alan Williams

Policy designed for and in the digital age

Why is policy still educated guesswork with a feedback loop measured in years?

— Tom Loosemore, UK Government Digital Service

At Code for America, we envision a government that works for people, and by people, in a digital age. The framework of delivery-driven government is intended to give a more concrete picture of that vision, and describe the ways that government must begin to operate in order to achieve it. In our original paper defining delivery-driven government, we said:

The movement to modernize government technology has been focused on the delivery of government services using modern technology and best practices. But that is only half the solution; now we must also learn to drive policy and operations around delivery and users, and complete the feedback circuit. …


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From Carl’s Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/carlvlewis/

We found out yesterday that we lost Carl V. Lewis, the founder of Open Savannah, a Code for America Brigade. Carl was a leader in our community, and served on the National Advisory Council for the Brigades. He was a true believer in a vision we both shared, and shared with many others. Getting to know Carl was one of the great joys of my past few years at Code for America, and I would like to share a little bit about the Carl I knew. Please also read Em Burnett’s post here.

I first became aware of Carl through a blog post he wrote shortly after he had founded Open Savannah. He wrote about Savannah’s future in the context of its past, a theme he would return to, and he started that post with a quote from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John…


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image courtesy Santiago Medem via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Yes, it’s true: Artificial Intelligence is coming and it’s going to change the world around us. Actually, AI and ML (machine learning) are already here, and we’re failing to appropriately grapple with the ramifications, especially ethical concerns. I don’t feel compelled to explain or support the above statements. Open any magazine, click randomly on any article on Medium, visit any public event at a think tank; chances are, concerns raised by the age of AI is the topic. Some of it will be bunk, some of it very thoughtful, but the topic is not exactly underdiscussed. …


In July 2009, over beers with a friend who worked for the City of Tucson, I asked “what if there was something called Code for America that could get people from consumer tech to help government?” The idea obsessed me, and I started working on it that afternoon. In a few months, that will be ten years ago.

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Last Friday, Calif. Governon Gavin Newsom published a budget summary for his 2019–2020 budget that includes a new Office of Digital Innovation. This office would focus on changing the way California approaches technology investments and service delivery to the public. The announcement reads as a good start to addressing some of the principles I outlined in my Dear Governor-Elect post in November, but leaves me with a few questions, paired with an optimism that we can influence what happens next by bringing the lessons of the larger Code for America community to bear here in California.

The budget summary designates $36 million to start the new Office of Digital Innovation (ODI), staffed with 50 people and an operating budget of $14 million per year, as well as a one-time $20 million innovation fund to assist other state departments with digital service needs. This development sounds right in line with the advice from my letter to “Focus on delivery” and “Make this a top priority” — it is, after all, the first statewide issue addressed in the budget — and that’s great to see. Of the four mission areas outlined for the office, one is to focus on the customer and ensure 21st century service delivery to the public. This is right in Code for America’s wheelhouse and tracks with our Delivery-Driven Government principles. I’m glad to see Governor Newsom commit to putting service delivery to the public at the top of his statewide priorities. …


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Today is California Governor Gavin Newsom’s first full day in office, and he’s chosen to spend it visiting a fire-ravaged area of the state. But this visit isn’t just an expression of empathy for those displaced. The Governor is signaling that it’s time to give the state more innovative tools to address this crisis and others. Today, Governor Newsom released an executive order that creates a procurement pathway called RFI2, or Request for Innovative Ideas. …

About

Jennifer Pahlka

Committed to government that works for people. Advisor to USDR. Member of the Defense Innovation Board. Past: Code for America, USDS. Mom. Keeper of chickens.

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