Code for America fellows talk procurement, why tech in government matters, and government business opportunities

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     From left to right, Shelly Ni, Patrick Hammons, and Ben Smithgall, the Code for America fellows working on procurement issues in Pittsburgh.

    From left to right, Shelly Ni, Patrick Hammons, and Ben Smithgall, the Code for America fellows working on procurement issues in Pittsburgh.

    Code for America works with governments to improve services through open source technology. Three fellows are helping Pittsburgh with procurement. 

     

    Governments, like people, have to buy goods and services. In government’s case it’s called procurement and includes everything from computers to website design to bridges. But government procurement can be a long, inefficient, bureaucratic process. 

    Code for America works with governments to improve services through open source technology, and right now three fellows are working to help the city of Pittsburgh with procurement. 

    Pittsburgh fellow Shelly Ni compared the city’s current process of finding goods on contract to an online shopping platform like Amazon, but “it would be like you’re looking for a pair of shoes but you have a spreadsheet with, like, a couple hundred items on it and some of them are labeled well and some of them are labeled kind of vaguely and you have to sort through that.”

    The fellows, who include Ni, Patrick Hammons, and Ben Smithgall, have been meeting with various stakeholders in government and business to talk about improvements the leaders would like to see. Hammons said getting people together in a room is just as important as the tech piece of the project. “A lot of the solutions that Code for America tries to get at aren’t just tech solutions, they’re sort of like process,” Hammons said.

    The three fellows come from diverse backgrounds that include public and private sector experience, and they will serve for one year with the organization. Hammons said he sees frustration within government and among citizens resulting from the technology lag in the public sector, and he wanted to participate in the program to help resolve that. “This country was founded on civic volunteerism, this country was founded on people picking up the shovel and chipping in, and I think this is a version of that,” Hammons said.

    The fellows spent a month in Pittsburgh learning about the problem and have returned to Code for America’s base in San Francisco. They’ll be back in about a month to test out their prototypes.  

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