It’s not easy following Todd Park, the federal government’s chief technology officer, and his breathless on-stage enthusiasm for promoting technical innovation in government and the virtues of collaboration.
Park clearly found an avid proponent, however, in Seth Harris, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor, who made a persuasive case last week in describing the inherent logic for government and the private sector to work jointly in turning information into useful tools for the American public and the U.S. economy.
Harris was one of nearly two dozen public officials and innovators invited by the White House to make presentations at the latest in a series of White House “Datapalooza” events Sept. 14 – this one aimed at showcasing how government data is being used to improve public safety. The half-day symposium was hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Park (pictured above, third from left) served as master of ceremonies and innovation cheerleader in chief before an audience of roughly 500 government and private sector leaders at the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Harris was one of several cabinet level deputies to underscore the importance of attracting private sector innovators to unleash the potential of government data into the public domain.
He highlighted the Labor Department’s recent success in getting the private sector to develop a mobile application that uses public data to expose workplaces known to violate labor laws.
He also didn’t miss the opportunity to promote Labor Department’s latest national challenge contest, which is offering $30,000 in prizes for the best new tools for educating the public –especially younger workers– about safety risks and protections in the workplace.
Roughly 18 million workers in the U.S., or nearly 15% of the workforce, are 24 years old or younger, said Harris. In 2009, 359 workers between the ages of 13 and 24 died from work-related injuries, according to Labor Department figures. The public has until Nov. 30 to submit their ideas.
But Harris also made a persuasive case for government challenge programs that engage the private sector for public benefit.
“There are two lessons,” at the heart of technological progress in America, Harris said. One is that “advances in technology are rarely one person’s thinking.” Regardless of the stories of ingenious ideas emerging from American garages, “real advances are collective efforts.”
The other lesson, he said, is “If we will just ask them and listen carefully to their answers, the American people have a pretty good idea of what they need.”
“There are many who say ‘government is the problem.’ That kind of thinking divorces government from the people. That’s wrong,” he said. “Democracy is an expression of the people. So it makes perfect sense that the government would elicit the best minds to solve the really big problems” facing our nation.
The half-day symposium served as the setting for a variety of announcements and demonstrations of new applications available for the public – many of which emanate from the government’s Data.gov website. Data.gov, led by Data evangelist Jeanne Holm, serves as a clearinghouse for government data, and features a variety of communities of interest, including public safety data.
John Pocari, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation announced that a series of new data sets on natural disasters — including earthquakes, droughts, devasting rains and tornados – and preparedness information from several federal agencies, have been added to Data.gov, a clearinghouse for government data available for public use.
“Understanding these disasters will help us better prepare for them,” said Pocari.
USGS Director Marcia McNutt, and NOAA Deputy Administrator, Kathryn Sullivan also made an appearance to reinforce the potential of earthquake data, which Sullivan said was the second most popular data set on Data.gov in the past week, behind the White House Visitor Requests log.
They also highlighted the release of Tweet Earthquake Dispatch that alerts subscribers about earthquakes ahead of general announcements. The service complements another tool called Did You Feel It? which taps the experience of people across the Internet to report the effects of an earthquake.
Body Armor Challenge The U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) National Institute of Justice (NIJ)’s deputy director, Greg Ridgeway, said DOJ/NIJ is offering $50,000 in prizes for solutions that help law enforcement officers know when it’s time to replace individual body armor.
Commuter and Crime Heat Maps Using publicly available data, California-based Trulia has developed an application that helps individuals planning to move to a new community find information about crime and commuting times for specific neighborhoods in a map-based application.
Red Cross Hurricane App – Get instant access to local and real time information on what to do before, during and after hurricanes. Building on the Red Cross’ social media space, the app also includes a number of features that allow people to monitor personalized weather alerts in locations where family and friends reside and to share information with others in their social networks who might also need it.
PulsePoint App – San Ramon Valley, Calif., Fire Protection Chief Richard Price presented an application that alerts individuals trained in CPR know the location where a person may be suffering cardiac arrest that supplements 911 response. (Price is pictured in lead photo, on stage at far right.)
Mothers Against Drunk Driving Infographic Challenge – MADD has launched a challenge for an interesting, engaging, and compelling look at government drunk driving statistics in support of the program. Help to meet the call for action.
Representatives from private sector firms SafetyBook, We Make It Safer, and SAP’s Recalls Plus demonstrated how consumers are beginning to benefit from product recall data collected by the government.
Park, speaking with Breaking Gov after the event, acknowledged that the datapalozza events take a while to catch the public’s attention and that more must be done to make government data easier for the public to access and for machines to ingest.
But with the White House planning upcoming datapalooza events around energy and education next month, and based on the continuing momentum of the health datapalooza he helped launch as CTO at the Health and Human Services Department, it’s clear Park has found a formula a highly visible and valuable platform for promoting innovation using government data.