Our ‘Kill It With Fire’ moment

Photo Credit: Edwin Levick via Getty Images

The amount of money that is about to be thrown at modernizing government legacy systems is staggering. The rescue package alone allocates several billion dollars to it, and that’s on top of what’s been spent over the past year trying to make systems at the federal, state, and local levels rise to the pandemic occasion. Philanthropy is opening its pocketbooks as well. For those who’ve been wishing for this for years, we are in a big “be careful what you wish for” moment. So, folks, what’s the plan?

Top of the list will be state unemployment insurance systems. And as…


Photo credit Demmer S flickr.com/photos/kre8ivps/49808596741/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A stunning announcement about how federal government hires recently passed largely unnoticed. Only in the age of vaccine rollout drama, impeachment, and Gamestop would this not qualify as headline news. Two weeks ago, the General Services Administration released data showing that 90% of competitive, open-to-the-public job announcements* across the federal government rely solely “on an applicant’s answers to a self-assessment questionnaire” and “an HR resume review to determine whether their experience made them eligible for the position.”

In other words: at a time when government desperately needs scientists, technologists, digital experts, and other highly specialized and skilled professionals, we have…


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…


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. …


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…


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…


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…


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…


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.

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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