Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Perils of Outsourcing

As we learned about IT outsourcing by the government, I came across a few articles, which make very strong arguments against IT outsourcing by the US Federal Government. As much as the benefits of IT outsourcing are visible, the demerits of having the whole system of putting more IT contractors than Civil servants in place has been stressful.

The U.S employment data released in October 2013 showed that the federal government employs 2.7 million people, which is the smallest number since 1966. This is due to the increased outsourcing. This results in increased spending by the government (by paying higher salaries to employees on contract and fewer bureaucrats).

One argument is that IT Outsourcing is only a way for corporations to be paid an amount of money which is much larger than what equally competent employees could be paid, if hired directly by the government. In reality, the American taxpayer ends up paying more money than they could have paid if the number of actual civil servants was enlarged. However, since the government employees lack expertise in certain areas, such as the use of complex IT procedures and software, they are bound to rely upon external contractors to perform the job. It also puts them in the situation of say an army led by generals who never learned to fire a weapon themselves.

On the other hand, private contractors are also sometimes termed as lousy at public services. The is cited as the biggest example so far, as ‘train wreck’, built by contractors and overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services. Both government and private sector have their weaknesses. While the private sector is more competitive and has bigger networks, and is more efficient at collecting more bills, the efficiency gap between the two entities is not drastic.

The question sometimes also arises whether the Federal Government has gone too far in its reliance on contractors and they are performing mission critical functions better left to civil servants. In the early 1990s, Members of Congress raised concerns about governmental responsibilities being unacceptably transferred to contractors. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy in 1992 issued a policy on “inherently governmental functions”. According to the policy, “Inherently governmental function means, as a matter of policy, a function that is so intimately related to the public interests as to mandate performance by governmental employees”. Today, it is difficult to differentiate who is performing which function.

On the Contrary, some people have argued that this concern about contractors' usurping Federal roles may be outmoded and irrelevant to how government works today given the prevailing multi sector agency workforce. The civil servant plus contractor workforce has become an essential fact for how federal agencies carry out their responsibilities.

I think, at this point of time, contractors have become essential to the functions of the government; perhaps the term ‘inherently governmental functions’ needs to be revised if it has not already been done. The security risks regarding handing out sensitive information (say IT outsourcing by intelligence agency) can be made more secure through stricter contracts and sharing of profits after program has been implemented, that we discussed in class.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Google Fiber and the Wireless Philadelphia Parallels

      Can you imagine broadband speeds of 100 times fast than what you have today?  According to Google that is what they can do with Google Fiber and have plans to bring that ability to several cities in the United States.  Google promotes it as “at up to 1,000 Mbps, Google Fiber is 100 times faster than today's basic broadband, allowing you to get what you want instantaneously. You no longer have to wait on things buffering; everything will be ready to go when you are. So whether you are video chatting, uploading family videos, or playing your favorite online games, all you need to do is click and you're there.”  Click Here to see source.   If you go to the site you can set up a “race” to time the speed of your internet vs Google Fiber.  Trust me, Google fiber will be faster (3 seconds verse 56 seconds for a 100 photo download). 
        Google’s plan is to attempt to roll this technology out in several US cities.  While they admit that it might not work in all cities, Google is committed to this project and intends to share lessons learned from the project for the betterment of society.  Google will work with each local government to determine the project logistics.  The goal is to utilize current infrastructure to lay down Google Fiber much like the Wireless Philadelphia project utilized utility poles to deploy the ill-fated wireless network.
       Though no financials for network establishment were provided in these articles, I find it hard to question each city government’s desire to be involved in such a plan.  Having broadband speeds at 100 times the current average would be an advantage to any city looking to attract technology businesses, which was one of the intents behind the Wireless Philadelphia venture.  Being able to bring business and commerce to a city helps with revitalization programs and can reduce a city’s unemployment rate.  This would be an investment in the future. 
       Although, according to the Website, once established, people can get Gigabit internet + TV for $120 a month; jut Gigabit internet for $70 a month or free internet ($30 construction fee).  Google would be your communication service provider.
      However, due to the current economic environment, will city governments have the funding to partner with Google on this project if they have to provide some of the resources?  What will the implications be on local communication service providers?  Google Fiber would provide internet access (either free or the upgrades gigabit version), TV, and DVR capabilities; how is this going to change the communication service provider industry?  What will the industry reaction be and can the current providers compete? 
       Go to the sites and review for yourself.  I just found the parallels with the Wireless Philadelphia to be very interesting.  Although, I believe the outcome will be much better for Google and those city governments involved.


Healthcare's Muddy Transparency

Last week Jay Zee’s blog entitled Digital Medicine is Within Reach, discussed the benefit of opening up the healthcare debate and making information regarding illnesses, viruses, etc. easily accessible along. Last week’s class discussion centered around the website Below I discuss another ancillary topic surrounding the digitization and question whether we have thus far squandered away an opportunity that has not been exploited to the detriment of the American public. 

An area in the healthcare debate that is front and center the cost of healthcare to the individual. Due to the Healthcare reform act, nearly everyone is required to obtain some form of healthcare.  As such, costs plays a significant role in deciding which plan to choose.  Whether to buy a “gold” or “silver” plan on, one must make assumptions on how much healthcare insurance that they require.  Drilling down even further on this analysis, an individual may wish to calculate how much a specific surgery cost and if their selected plan would cover.  

It is at this moment, when the individuals tries to research the cost of a “service”, in this case surgery, that they may run into a roadblock.

A recent Wall Street Journal article reported on this topicUnlike other industries where you’re able to research the cost of a product or service before your purchase, the healthcare industry has done an impressive job at hiding the true cost of a procedure. Moreover, the few websites that do cover the costs, of say joint replacement surgery, vary widely.  For example in Oklahoma, the cost of joint replacement surgery was $5,300 compared to $223,000 in California. Even more alarming is the fact that although this known cost discrepancy exists, nothing has been done by our government to shed light on the price gouging that goes on in the healthcare industry. is a website where individuals can go online to view the costs of common procedure.  United Health Group is another first mover empowering consumers.  Their websites officers its members a tool where they can compare negotiated rates for more than 500 services.  Alarmingly, only 2% of ther members accessed such tools, because of the lack of awareness that this service existed.  

If the government is mandating everyone has healtchare insurance, should the consumer have easy access to the prices of the healthcare services?  Keeping in line with government transparency, should the government provide, or at a minimum, require network providers and hospitals to provide a range that a typical surgery or procedure may cost?  


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Digital Medicine is Within Reach

As I read the Digital Medicine article, it struck me how potentially inter-connected a nationalized healthcare system and the digititalization of medicine could be.  The article states this "digitalization of medicine will personalize health care [in that] treatment will be tailored to each person as a unique individual suffering a unique illness according to his or her genetic makeup."  In reality it would make great strides in reducing our health care costs.  It is well known that prevention is the best medicine, (e.g. "well child visits" are less expensive than "sick child visits").  Digital medicine positions us to take effective proactive measures in caring for ourselves vice the reactive measures we normally employ, moving the approach to "true health care."

With the CDC online providing up to date, even real-time, information about the emerging threats of illnesses, viruses, and infectious diseases, today's smart phones can integrate this data with the personal information and determine imminent threats to individuals -- and get that information to the individuals -- far more effective communication to incent preventative action.

Another corollary I drew was the personalized care the digitalization would enable.  The article purports that we will move to treating illnesses based on the individual patient vice "therapy based on population statistics"  or similar symptoms. Giving patients generic treatments that end up not working only increases the cost of health care.  In our efforts to reduce the cost of health insurance by spreading the cost as we include healthy individuals (thereby reducing adverse selection), we may not realize that the best approach may be to effectively treat illnesses with targeted medicine, and even prevent illnesses based on individual's DNA.

Very interesting article with far-reaching ramifications -- food for thought.  Keep in mind, laughter is truly the BEST medicine.  


Jay Zee

Monday, February 17, 2014

Similar But Different – E (Commerce/Government)

In preparing for class, I started reading an article “E-Commerce and e-Government: How Do They Compare? What Can They Learn From Each Other?” published back in 2009 and started wondering if things have changed.

Things that I took note of from the Article.

In the 2009 study, E-Commerce (EC) and E-Government (EG) were discovered to have similarities and differences.  Yet, the two events followed very separate and distinct paths.  One of the similarities was in the implementation.  EC and EG organizations both benefited significantly when the underlying workflows and processes were not electronic recreations.  True efficiencies were gained when old processes were replaced by different workflows and processes which took full advantage of technology.  Collaboration was a second similarity.  An incentive for streamlining and redesigning workflows and processes allowed for an increase in collaboration which also became possible through the speed of the information transfer.  It was also found that collaboration excelled when allowed to unfold through formal agreements and was actually increased when chosen to be utilized and not forced.  And lastly, both EC and EG structures were influenced based on the perceived needs of customers.

There were numerous differences noted in the study between EC and EG.   In the aspect of transaction processing, EC appears more sophisticated and has higher volume; while EG appears to be more developed in the arena of information processing and management.  When I look at the type of worked performed in these areas, this makes sense.  The drive for innovation was stronger in EC, but the overall sophistication of EG did not appear to lag.  EC was more elaborative in their use of historical data and data in-processing to optimized desired organization actions.  Yet the quality of information used was less than what is available in EG.  There was also a mention regarding leadership support of e-projects and collaboration being higher in EG.  And finally, customers have more influence in the design structure of EG than in EC.

From 2009 to 2014, have there been any changes in the similarities or differences between EC or EG?  cannot wait to see what comes out in class tonight.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Is the Government Really as "Open" as It Purports to Be?

The Whitehouse's Open Government Initiative purports to promote Transparency, Participation and Collaboration between the U.S. Government and the American people.  It probably was at one time.  But I'm not so sure it is quite so much anymore.

As my com padre and I were evaluating the Whitehouse's Open Government Initiative website (, we were pleasantly surprised at how much information was now fairly readily available to the general public.  We walked the class through the navigation of the website and displayed how to access data the various Executive Agencies have made public.

A few of the negatives seemed to be:

1)  the Open Govt Initiative does not seem to be quite as participatory and collaborative as it once was;

2)  the website offers much information, but it is not intuitive or easily searchable;

and the most glaring defect was

3) searching for "open" on the site does not take you to the Open Gov Initiative page with the live links.

The last point was so egregious that I had to act.  I emailed the problem to the single email contact provided on the Open Gov Initiative site (it was challenging to locate):

Sent: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 8:48 AM
Subject: Case sensitive

Dear Webmasters for the Greater Good,

For one of my classes, I've had to research the Open Government Initiative area of the website.

I have found that getting to the Open Government Initiative "homepage" requires the user to know that the link is case sensitive on the word "open".   "Open" takes the user to a different page -- one that looks similar, mind you, but it lacks the internal links to the subsequent Open Govt pages.  

I've attached a pdf of the screenshots for both.

Additionally, when a user searches on "open" or "open government initiative" in the search tool, the first result returned is the "Open".  Essentially, if the user does not know about the case sensitivity, they cannot reliably get to the homepage of the  Open Government Initiative.

Is this the intent?   


I did indeed attach the PDF screenshot:

It's been 20 days since I first gave them a heads up.  Sadly, nothing has changed on the website and I have yet to hear back from anyone on this.  

So, I am forced to deduce that this Administration (since it's really the Administration's objective) is not really as "open" as it purports to be.  It seems more to be talk than anything else really.

If I'm wrong..., show me the money :-)

Jay Zee

Big Data transforming U.K. Legislation Delivery

If anyone has ever tried to peruse through United States Code (the law) you can understand how difficult it is to find things and once you do to interpret the law you've found.  I can only imagine legislation is structured similarly in the U.K. where the government has set aside about half a million pounds to fund the "Big Data for Law" Project.  The idea behind the project is to transform how citizens view legislation by starting a new service, by March of 2015.  This site aims to eventually clean up the law, make it leaner and more accessible for all citizens, not just lawyers. 

Article found here

Friday, February 14, 2014

EU wants transparency over internet control

An interesting article about the European Union and their demand that the US government provide more transparency over control of the internet.  We've been talking about the US Government wanting to provide transparency in government to the citizens.  Although this is slightly different, transparency for this type of an issue seems a reasonable request from someone who has only read this one article. I pretty sure the non-techie crowd was unaware that our government was even involved with any type of influence over the internet.  This is more fallout over the Eric Snowden issue and the revelation that the US Government has been involved in monitoring foreign dignitary traffic. 

I know very little about who owns or controls the actual internet but apparently our government has some significant influence over new domain addresses.  As a Comptroller, I want to know who is paying this bill and as a taxpayer, how much is this costing but as a citizen, this seems to be something with a simple fix.  Some simple rules so that other nations can actively participate in the process and the EU seems like a good place to start.  These are friends that I suspect many people think we owe some signs of trust ever since the "Snowden" event.  We might even be able to get some cost-sharing out of it (Comptroller mentality) and save this country some money.  If this shoe was on the other foot, our country would be asking for the same transparency.

Here is the link.  Take a look and see what you think.

How ICT infrastructure has improved in Afghanistan?

Monday, February 10, 2014

State of Freedom of Information in Pakistan and digital database management

The discussion on Freedom of Information Act in the US in the class led me to taking a closer look at the state of freedom of Information in my country, Pakistan. In case of Pakistan, according to article 19 of the  Constitution:

"Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, commission or incitement to an offence." 

However, the story pretty much ends here. Fancy words require action to make them substantial. Although Pakistan was the first country in South Asia to promulgate the FOI Ordinance in 1997, it was a poorly drafted, flawed and ineffective law. The second version of FOI was issued in 2002 by the then President, General Pervaiz Musharraf. Till date, it has not been converted into an act and required legislation is underway. The term 'right to information' is undefined, the list of excluded records and information exempted from disclosure is long (Sections 8 and 14-18) and the controls are tight. It is necessary for requesters to give reasons for requesting information along with their contact information. Appeal can be made to the head of the public body if designated officer fails to provide the requested information and a second appeal to Federal Ombudsman can be made, which interestingly enough, is only recommendatory and not binding. There is no penalty for officers who delay, deny or provide incorrect information malafidely. Instead, a complainant can be fined up to Rs. 10,000 if his/her complaint is found to be "malicious, frivolous or vexatious". (I like the use of term 'frivolous' here). Several important provisions are missing. 

Not only there appears to be a lack of willingness on the part of federal Government, but also lack of capacity to collect, organize, digitize and publish data, let alone encouraging citizen participation in development initiatives. In the last couple of years, active movements from the civil society have pushed provincial governments to promulgate FOI laws. They have been engaging political parties urging them in to include RTI in their party manifestos. 

 The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Punjab government have fortunately formulated RTI legislation. KP Right to information Ordinance, passed in May 2013, has been widely appleciated. Toby Mendel, Executive Director, Center for Law and Democracy ( termed KP RTI law as better than the 95 national laws that CLD had studied. Soon after, Punjab also promulgated "Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013, which, however, is also known as a 'confused act' by many. 

It is a very dismal situation in terms of RTI in Pakistan. It is often suggested that lessons should be taken from Indian FOI Act of 2005 since both countries share similar history and have sprung out of colonial mindset of governance. It is easy to follow the model but we want to stay enemies forever. The problem with Pakistan is that the common man is not aware of his/her rights. The public is too busy trying to earn a livelihood and making ends meet that they do not bother about what government is and is not telling them. Also they are uneducated and terrorism stricken. Its the media, social activists and civil society which make a living out of pointing out such flaws. 

 One initiative that I found online is by a Pakistani Fulbrighter who, through his website, is trying to educate the general public about its right to information and the methods of attaining it in detail. It is called the Freedom of Information Pakistan Network. ( 

When it comes to information management, Pakistan has an excellent National Database Registration System (NADRA). It has shown tremendous growth in the past thirteen years in terms of citizen identification through bio-metrics, e-governance and data warehousing. I was fascinated to see the use of technology at NADRA  in terms of e-governance and data collection at its website ( I would encourage readers to take a look. However, I could not see any initiatives for dissemination of information, nor any such directions by the government under the FOIA. It appears that the necessary infrastructure is present for initiatives like I am hoping it will grow in the future. 

Data.Gov – Apps

Apple store or Play Store….where do you go to download apps?  I for one, use Play Store.   I am also one of those who will not pay for an application.  So, if it is not for free, than it is not getting downloaded.  I have higher financial priorities. So, imagine my delight to find a whole new avenue of free applications.

Data.Gov has a whole section on applications that have been developed using the datasets readily available to the public.  There are tons of applications.  The “Mom Maps” helps moms find family fun places and kid friendly locations on the go.  “RAIDS Online” is a crime mapper that gives the public a better idea of the activity in their area.  There are apps that provide information regarding school districts, travel/leisure opportunities as well as one that will calculate how much of a carbon footprint you create.  The list of applications seemed endless.
What a wonderful resource.  Why didn’t I know about this before?
The main drawback that I see in using this source is the inability to search for a particular app or app type.  You have to scroll through applications to find what you are looking for.  Of course, this is a way to find out what you didn’t know was out there and available… If you have the time.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Is SEE CLICK FIX effective?

Based on the below posting from JAY ZEE you would think yes.  Her issue took a few days and a little back and forth, but in the end it was taken care of.  I became curious.  Does time of year become a factor on how fast something is of fix? Or what about the type of fix you are reporting?  The outage of the streetlight was fixed in less than a week.  Weather did not seem to be an issue.  We did not have a lot of snow on the ground, I think we had just a few spots of residual snow.  So what would be the response on a pothole?  I reported a pothole on the 3rd of February. 

 Similar to what ZAY ZEE experienced, I received an email letting me know that 13 people had been emailed on the issue.  But unlike JAY ZEE’s issue, that is pretty much where it ended.   There was no further response or contact.  Not even a canned notice to let me know that this is not the time of year in which potholes are fixed.  Not even something to acknowledge the issue and that it is now on the city’s list to be fixed at a later date.  The lack of response is somewhat disappointing.  The reported pothole actually got 2 votes to be fixed.  So, I am not the only one that is interested in the issue. 

From the perspective of this website, Syracuse does not seem to be responsive to pothole issues; whether it is due to the time of year or just plain ignorance.  As this is Syracuse and maybe, just maybe, it is common knowledge that potholes are not fixed this time of year and anyone silly enough to post something regarding potholes should just be marked off as clueless.  So, I decided to look at a different city.  One in which the winter season is not so harsh.  I plugged in my home zip code for San Antonio TX to see what issues had been reported in my local area.   I came across a pothole that was reported on the 29th of September 2013.  And yes, it was still an open issue as of 4 February 2014.  This is a city that cannot use the time of year or weather as a reason to not fix potholes. 


Is it reasonable to conclude that See Click Fix may not be the best avenue to use if you are looking to get a pothole fixed?   Maybe the website is effective for some issues, just not potholes.  Either way, it would have been nice if there was some type of response (canned or original) that would tell you where you should go to report the issue.

Does government have people with the technology skills?

As we explore the e-government world it become interesting to think about our own workspace and how we integrate and develop new technologies.  For the most part, my involvement is using e-mail, processing my time, submitting expense reports and using the windows based programs to collect and analyze data. 

An interesting article in the Government Technology website talks about all those technology positions within government that need to be filled with the same smart people that are working in the private industry.  I think it is fair to say that the expertise level in the private sector is much higher than we have in government.  We only need to look at to see an example.  It took months too develop, test and deploy the new website for and only days to find out that it was inadequate to support its intended purpose.
So, what did the government do?  We went to private industry and in just a matter of six weeks, the system was evaluated, updated, probably tested and re-launched.  I'm not saying that it works perfectly because I was not affected and did not have to search for health care but according to the President, the system is working and operating as intended.  People are able to sign-up, research and get the answers to the questions they have. 

The problem is to figure out how the government (Federal in this case) can attract and retain the talent needed to keep them moving forward in this age of technology.  How can government compete with the salary and perks provided by the private industry.   I personally do not have any suggestion but I know the government has used a number of different programs to attract other critical skills. This includes doctors and foreign language specialist.  Does it make sense to adopt the types and styles of the top high tech companies like Google and Facebook?  I wonder if we can get government to shed its very formal and structured lifestyle in order to attract the young bright minds needed to think and act in a technical world. 

We could always contract out these services and focus on the maintenance side of the process but how much will that cost?  Will the public be willing to accept this cost knowing that the end result will probably be better than having to have them come in after the fact and fix what government tried to build on their own?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Digital Divide or Social Divide?

In the 1970s, three researchers, Tichenor, Donohue and Olien, from the University of Minnesota presented the Knowledge Gap theory. They believed that the increase of information in society is not evenly acquired by every member of society and that people of higher socio-economic status tend to have better ability to acquire information. The people with lower socio-economic status, defined partly by educational level, have little or no knowledge about public affairs issues, are disconnected from news events and important new discoveries, and usually aren't concerned about their lack of knowledge. This leads to an increased gap between members of social classes. As I was going through this theory, it occurred to me that it is true even today and is expected to continue widening the gap between the rich and the poor. 

Seventy percent of world population does not have access to the internet. Only one-third of world population is online out of which, nearly 40 per cent use internet on mobile devices. This was made possible through cheap web access over phone lines.  Does it suggest that the digital gap between the rich and poor is closing? Not really I suppose. 

With constant digitization of everyday services, bill payments, internet classrooms, educational materials, job applications and interviews,  and connectivity through social media, people are rapidly developing digital literacy in order to carry out these tasks more quickly and conveniently, given their busy schedules. The same activities are expected to become inherent parts of their routines in the future. I am assuming that only these people will be the customers of next generation of internet services. These will be the people who will benefit from great careers given ready awareness of opportunities and better connections with employers, can pursue better health-care through online doctors, and can access distant education, to mention a few. 

However, it is difficult to carry out all of these tasks over smartphones. Its simply tiring and cumbersome. I do not remember using my smartphone for doing more than checking emails, maps, weather, downloading music, social networking, sports, checking shopping deals (btw I loved the black friday apps ), news (occasionally), online gaming and pictures.(For other things, I do want to go back to my big screened laptop). This is the trend that I see most of the people following by choice.Those who do not have the money to buy personal computers and high-speed wired internet connections also rely on their phones.  Can mobiles phones close the digital divide? 

All these people are and will be left out of the benefits of information technology. Not only they will lag behind in getting the best jobs, but will also lose e-business opportunities. Business is all about staying informed about market conditions, and making informed decisions at the right time. How would they know when to act? The result would be that they will stick to their traditional methods of working and with every coming day, lose opportunities to grow. Information is the basis of knowledge which helps societies develop wisdom to take timely and effective measures to make the most out of available resources. 

Bill Clinton once said, "It is dangerously destabilizing to have half the world on the cutting edge of technology while the other half struggles on the bare edge of survival". Who's responsibility is it to bridge the gap? The Government of each country. Who has the capacity? Private companies. The greater the competition between cable network companies, the better and cheaper the technology will be and Adam Smith's invisible hand can take care of the rest. In my opinion, public-private partnerships in this area can immensely help closing this gap. The digital government initiative by the American government can set policy guidelines for developing countries in this area and the model can and should be followed elsewhere. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

North Korea Project “Bright”

  Wary NKorea struggles to stay afloat in info ageIn exact opposition to almost every topic of discussion in our Digital Government class, Kim Jong-um and his party maintain state control of the Internet.  What’s the best way to control your people?  Control the flow of information.

In an effort to “protect” North Koreans from the corruption of the World Wide Web, a decade-old program called Kwangmyong, or Bright, allows users access to an Intranet that offers access to government approved information.  North Korea leaders acknowledge the requirement to access information in order to evolve in the global economy, but fear that mass access to the web could corrupt their way of life. 

While we struggle with developing innovative ways to deliver mass information to a small percentage of Americans, Kim Jong-um struggles to accomplish the opposite. 


Original story and photo courtesy of Eric Talmadge, American Press.


An interesting story published on the internet by MSN talking about the Presidents initiative to connect over 20 million students via high speed internet.  If you have children in school, they will probably tell you they have internet access but that it very slow.  This initiative will partner with private sources to upgrade and enhance the internet speed so that these children can continue to compete with the rest of the world.

As a Syracuse University student, I just assume that my internet access is the as good as its going to get and to be honest it has been pretty reliable and quick.  But what about the rural schools where the access is probably not as good due to a lack of resources.  I can see how those schools and educators could provide a much more lively experience if they had the same access that I have here in NY.  the story mentions the ability to compete against other countries?  I am not a technology genius but I thought this country has some pretty good "stuff".   The more we dig into this technology subject, the more I tend to shake my head and wonder why we are not the leaders or near the top of the leader board.  At the very least it is encouraging to see these issues being addressed and with the help of private funding sources.  Maybe it is something all the politicians can agree upon.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

"See>Click>Fix" Seems to Actually Work!

Knowing that Syracuse will not fix any potholes until the Spring, I wanted to find another public nuisance problem to report and test the concept/website.  With that in mind, on my way home I was driving on E. Genesee and encountered a street light that went off as I was driving by.  It dawned on my that burned out lights were something the city could repair in the Winter without it being a waste of resources.

So, I turned around to take a snapshot of the burned out light.  Much to my dismay, the light was back on - likely due to a timer or motion sensor.  Alas, I was not inclined to give up so easily.  Thus, I determined to drive on some side streets, anticipating I would come across another without too much effort.  But I had to be sure it was not timer related.

I did not have to drive far or long.  Just off E. Genesee, on Gifford Parkway, I ran into (not literally!) another light that was "deader than a door nail" (internationals - check the idiom).  It was below zero that evening, but I ventured forth from my semi-warm vehicle to click 3 quick pictures with my phone.  Of course, they were all VERY DARK...because the street light was out!

I made my way home and logged the problem with my best picture onto the website.  Very shortly thereafter, at 7:14 pm, I received an auto-response email from the site acknowledging my submission.  The reply indicated my post had been sent to 13 people as follows:

Who was Notified

13 people received this email including 3 public watchers.
Public Watchers who received this message:
  • NY State Senate District 49
  • Syracuse Department of Public Works
  • City of Syracuse Mayor
Hooray!  The next morning (Jan 29), I received an email at 8:56 am from the website congratulating me, saying that the City of Syracuse had closed my issue.  I assumed that they closed the issue because they had fixed the issue - but being who I am, I drove by the place that evening to confirm that it indeed had been rectified.

To my dismay, but not my surprise, the street light was just as dark as the night before.  I took another picture.  Upon my return home, I re-read the email and clicked the link where I could THANK them or put in another comment - and re-open the issue.  Yes, I did the latter.  I expressed to them that they may have attempted to fix the problem, but they likely used a broken bulb in the process.  Alas, it still needs repair.

This story ends on a high note.  I drove by a few more times, and finally, last evening (2/1), I found the street light was shining brightly to aid and protect all who drive by.  I did go back to my initial congratulatory email and clicked the link to send a thank you to them.

So, overall, it worked!  All's well that ends well. :-)

Jay Zee

Government Contracting in the U.S.

As the government increasingly outsources its IT projects to contractors, I became interested on how companies become contractors and navigate the contracting process as well as issues in the current contracting landscape today.   The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) contains many rules for government contracting in order to prevent corruption. There are also certain requirements that have been set:

-          Government purchases from $3,000 to $100,000 must be go towards small businesses
-          23 percent of all contracts must be directed to small businesses
-          Contractors must meet standards for safety and wages and keep track of their costs
-          Agencies can purchase items with a credit card if it is below a certain amount.  Above this amount, they must issue RFPs and receive competing bids.

In order to become a contractor to the federal government, companies have to do several things:

-          Figure out which and search for which agencies desire their product.  If it is a routinely purchased item, it appears in the GSA schedule.  If it is a bid worth more than $25,000, it will appear in
-          Meet “Past Performance” requirements and respond in time to bids
-          Receive a DUNs number, enroll in CCR, and be classified as a business in the NAICS – if a business is small, minority or veteren-owned, it can be to their advantage
-          Decide whether to be a subcontractor to a larger contractor, or, if you are a large company, decide how to do small business subcontracting.  In order for businesses to win contracts more than $550,000, they must include small businesses in subcontracting.
-          Gain customer and competitive intelligence in order to win contracts; network and lobby with government procurement officers and attend procurement conferences; use procurement consultants to help win bids

After learning all this information on government contracting, I wondered what were ways the process could improve and found this blog post from the Sunlight Foundation (link is below) about how IT project contracting.  Several ways to improve are recommended such as:

-          Open source software could be an alternative to proprietary software and there should be guidelines from OMB on how it can be used within government
-          Reducing the past experience requirements for contractors
-          Having ways to effectively evaluate and do analysis on bids to “to better understand where the biggest and smallest capacities lie in the government contractor sector, which solicitations are likely to get more bids and thus require more reviewing capacity, and which solicitations require more publicity to get a broad set of competitors.”  In addition, this bid analysis could identify companies whom have had a bad performance record or other violations to make it easier to sort through bids.
-          Reducing the requirement of the government to have to be legally justified in rejecting a company and the ability of a company to protest with GAO

This article was very interesting to read especially on how with more analysis and data sharing about contract bids, it could be much easier to choose contractors and create improvements.  I also wonder if small business requirements in contracting are helpful to the system.  It will be interesting to see if all the publicity from will spur changes in the future.

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