Government Technology News
Thu, 29 Jun 2017 09:08:23 +0200
Report: Federal Regulations Website Should Consider Adopting Yelp-Style Commenting Approach
Regulations.gov launched in 2003 during then-President George W. Bush’s first term as an online resource to research and comment on federal regulations under development. Despite making improvements in recent years, however, website curators have more work to do, say officials at nonprofit Argive.
Designed as a way to modernize public interaction prescribed by legal obligations dating to the 1940s, the website created a centralized repository for a veritable mountain of federal data — everything from scientific and technical findings to food labeling and national monument review regulations.
But in the June 15 report Improving Regulations.gov: A Perspective from Silicon Valley, authors at Argive, a 501c3 focused on improving transparency and accountability in regulatory decision-making, said the website’s mission would be greatly enhanced if aspects of its process were updated.
Calling the website “dated” and “a formality to legislative requirements of the rule-making process,” report authors documented issues they found during an analysis of two rule-making dockets.
The first examined a presidential memorandum calling on the Department of Commerce to take comments on rules affecting American manufacturers. Nearly 200 people ultimately commented.
The second scrutinized a comment analysis of responses to the controversial Food & Drug Administration (FDA) rule that equates electronic cigarettes with tobacco products and therefore subject to the same regulations.
Here, more than 100,000 commenters weighed in; but, authors wrote, “both illustrate similar challenges in soliciting effective regulatory feedback.”
Maleka Momand, Argive president and one of three report authors, told Government Technology that the website’s underlying issue is how it “is designed to collect and process the comments.”
Also at issue is that comments were submitted as “unstructured free text or PDF attachments,” making them tough to quickly read, interpret or summarize public opinion.
To remedy this, report authors suggested that up-voting, summary statistics and the ability to track “comments on comments” would be useful additions, and recommended the Amazon product review interface as a helpful model.
Another contention in the report was that "because most of the public is unfamiliar with Regulations.gov," a “majority” of comments on requests for information (RFIs) came from interest groups "with coordinated federal lobbying agendas,” according to the report.
The authors' recommendations included having the agencies that draft the regulations tag them with industry-specific North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes and build RSS feeds based on those codes.
Filtering comments by industry, and from newest to oldest, and thinking about different ways to “splice” data could “produce more actionable insights for policymakers,” Momand said.
And to cut down on duplicate comments, authors recommended offering users the option of signing an online petition posted to the docket.
Also, limited comment windows date to the Administrative Procedures Act of 1946, a foundation of Regulations.gov, but stand in contrast to modern private-sector websites like Yelp. Argive recommended creating “living dockets” and eliminating 90-day comment periods.
Momand said she envisions an update built on software that could create a more effective, Yelp-like experience, “where you can read other people’s reviews, up-vote it, down-vote it, add your own comments to it and really create this dynamic filtering function … .”
The existing comment window, she said, stifles “sophisticated analysis or well-put-together thoughts on a rule.”
Comments “rarely” yielded tangible data on the costs and benefits of rules — another consequence of limited comment periods. Improving cost-benefit models and clearly explaining their assumptions could help, authors wrote.
Also, comments seldom suggested “actionable improvements” or “specific legal changes” to the rules in question.
Comment windows stifle the chance that submissions might continue and provide ongoing documentation of a regulation’s success or failure, Momand and other website users told Government Technology.
“I think that just allowing for more long-term planning and allowing people to comment down the line on how a rule has impacted them would be pretty tremendous in our ability to capture how the regulatory state operates and how it affects the U.S.,” Momand said.
Doing away with them “could improve regulations by providing additional information to agencies that they might have missed,” said Sofie E. Miller, senior policy analyst at the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Patrick McLaughlin, a senior research fellow and director of the Program for Economic Research on Regulation at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia, said he "wouldn’t want to entirely throw Regulations.gov under the bus. But on the other hand, they could have gone further, they can still go further."
A larger issue, McLaughlin added, is that “there are too many cooks in the kitchen in some sense.”
“The content on the website depends on all the different agencies using the website correctly. But the central curators can’t do all that themselves,” he added, referring to naming and filing documents correctly.
McLaughlin and Miller agreed curators are likely very interested in making ongoing updates to the website.
“Their goal is to improve regulations by improving information and improving public participation in the process,” Miller told Government Technology.
In 2013, open government advocate the Sunlight Foundation generally agreed, praising the recent release of its API as well as styling, presentation and organizational updates.
As to whether the government website could someday more closely resemble Yelp, Miller said the idea reminded her of several years ago when Wikipedia became popular and some suggested government regulations follow its style in becoming living documents.
“These kinds of ideas have been around for a while. I’m not sure how well they fit into our administrative law system,” she said, indicating statutory changes might be needed first.
McLaughlin, creator of website RegData, which quantifies regulations by content and industry, praised Regulations.gov for having an API and said launching a private Yelp-style website where visitors could give feedback on its documents “wouldn’t be that hard to set up.”
But even in the private sector, “whether it’s actually used is the bigger question,” he said. “That remains to be determined.”
Wed, 28 Jun 2017 05:00:00 PDT
Vegas, D.C. Showcase Their Smart Cities Approaches In Austin, Texas
AUSTIN, Texas — At this week's the Smart Cities Connect Conference, officials have acknowledged that the next iteration of the smart city should focus more on people and less on infrastructure; the National Science Foundation highlighted three ways it's supporting the greater gov tech movement; and five new cities joined the Smart Gigabit Communities program.
But not all attendees took to the stage to share their smart city approaches. On the show floor, Don Jacobson, IT business partner with the city of Las Vegas, told Government Technology that about 18 months ago, the City Council designated the downtown area as an Innovation District "where we can take and make that a proving ground — a demo area test bed if you will — for all sorts of smart cities technologies," he said, calling out the Internet of Things, connected and autonomous vehicles, and sensors that gather environmental data.
Jacobson mentioned the Innovate.Vegas website, which offers details on news events and activities happening in the larger innovation space, and also links to an interactive map of the Innovation District that displays the connected corridors along with locations of sensors being installed.
Across the country, Washington, D.C., has two big projects that Mike Rupert, communications director for the Office of the Chief Technology Officer, was highlighting at the conference.
"The first one is called PA2040, which is a nine-square-block project that we have installed Gigabit Wi-Fi, which is ubiquitous throughout the area — it's very busy from about 9 to about 4, and it's pretty empty after that," he said. "And so we want to kind of activate the area, provide that Wi-Fi to activate parks, to keep people moving and walking, instead of either hiding in their cars ... or hiding in their offices."
The city also just wrapped up a pilot in which 76 intelligent street lights were configured with motion sensors, Rupert said, so each is 30 percent lit until someone comes within 100 yards of it.
"It also allows us to control them remotely for special events or in the event of an evacuation — God forbid something happens — we're able to turn it on 100 percent, or blink them to point people in the right direction," he added, "so that was the really exciting pilot, which has led to an RFP to actually go start doing this throughout the entire city."
One of our GovTech 100 companies — AppCityLife — also was at Smart City Connect, and CEO Lisa Abeyta told Government Technology that AppCityLife was selected as one of the six presenters for the Innovation Challenge for Infrastructure. While it may seem rather odd to have a platform as a service that is focused on data as part of infrastructure, she noted that that's where it needs to start.
"The thing that the judges said made them decide that we should be part of that is the fact that we are platform agnostic, and that we are integrating artificial intelligence, chatbots, normalizing data, have native mobile apps that have more advancements for ADA compliance," she said, adding that these advancements are not for the just visually impaired, but also can now bring in natural language so that people who are illiterate or non-native English-language speakers can use technology that they previously couldn't. "So it expands the breadth of reach for a city that allows more people to use the technology"
Wed, 28 Jun 2017 01:30:00 PDT
Tech Showcase Conveys that Sacramento, Calif., Is Not All Talk When It Comes to Autonomous Vehicles
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Aligned outside the new Golden 1 Center, a series of autonomous vehicles (AVs) were on display the afternoon of June 27 to showcase the technology and how it may impact California's capital city in the future.
Sacramento is intent on positioning itself as a major player in the AV game. To that end, the city along with representatives from the state Legislature, industry partners and the Sacramento Kings launched the Autonomous Transportation Open Standards Lab (ATOS) earlier this year in order to “develop an open standards lab and a protocol that achieves the delicate balance between ensuring that this technology is safe and, at the same time, ensure a regulatory environment where we are not stifling innovation,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg told Government Technology in April.
And this showcase was a very public display to show that Sacramento is not all talk.
The full spectrum of AVs was on display: an Audi A7 sedan, a Chrysler minivan outfitted with Renovo self-driving software, an Otto autonomous big rig and an EasyMile driverless shuttle.
This demonstration showcases that Sacramento has the ability to bring companies in, said Chief Innovation Officer Louis Stewart.
“We’re trying to affect the conversation by bringing more awareness, more education and more visibility to the technology,” he added. “Companies a lot of the time have to come to Sacramento, to talk to regulators, but often don't know who they need to talk to. So we’re trying to position City Hall and Sacramento as that place that can be the connector.”
California has issued AV testing permits to more than 30 companies, including Apple, Waymo (the Google spin-off), Ford, General Motors and Tesla. “The state is the regulator,” said Stewart. “We want to have a role in the conversation where we give the companies and the regulators a place to meet so it's not all virtual.”
The city is taking a holistic approach to the issue. Recently the city entered into a partnership with Verizon to deploy a 5G network using small cell transmitting devices. While autonomous vehicles often use some combination of lidar sensors, radar and motion sensors, setting up infrastructure to enable communication with vehicles creates multiple redundancies in the system leading to better safety outcomes. Vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication can also be used by connected non-autonomous cars to warn drivers of collisions or update traffic conditions.
Another part of the equation is creating the appropriate workforce that can work on and operate the next generation of vehicles.
“The city has started pushing on workforce side of the conversation," Stewart said. "We want to bring in community colleges, we want to bring in Sac State, UC Davis to the table, and have a conversation about the jobs of the future."
The hope is that this effort will lead Sacramento to have one of the most advanced workforces. “At least we can show what that pipeline looks like, from coding to cybersecurity to working on autonomous cars.”
During the announcement of the ATOS Lab, Kings owner and technology veteran Vivek Ranadive issued the King’s Challenge — he challenged the city to have 40 to 50 people arrive to the first Kings game of the season in an autonomous vehicle. While the Oct. 30 deadline is fast approaching and could incite panic other cities, Stewart said Sacramento is ready to meet the goal.
“We heard him loud and clear,” he added, noting that officials are in advanced talks to have 20 to 25 autonomous vehicles in the city by September. The end goal, however, is not about the Oct. 30 opening game, after which these AVs go back to wherever they are from, he explained — it is part a much larger effort to get a sustained presence of autonomous vehicle manufacturers working with the city, eventually deploying services to help residents and provide economic development opportunities.
“We want autonomous cars and connected cars to be synonymous with Sacramento," Stewart said.
Wed, 28 Jun 2017 08:30:00 PDT
Affront to Florida's Agency for State Technology Officially Dies by Governor’s Veto
In early 2017, Florida’s House Government Operations and Technology Appropriations subcommittee launched a legislative assault on the autonomy of the state’s centralized IT shop, the Agency for State Technology (AST). That affront, better known as House Bill 5301, did not survive Gov. Rick Scott’s veto June 26.
When the bill was originally introduced in March, the chief sponsor of the bill, Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-District 35, raised issue with the 3-year-old agency’s authority over the state’s data center oversight, and targeted what he perceived as unnecessary costs and ballooning IT expenses.
He called for agencies to conduct their own cost-benefit analyses around data center use, which would have allowed them to unilaterally move to individual cloud services at will. Experts worried the plan would have driven up costs for agencies remaining under the data center’s cost recovery model.
Officials within the agency and experts in the state’s tech community voiced concern about the plan to essentially decentralize the agency, but the bill proceeded, eventually being tied to the state’s budgeting and appropriations process. In May, word filtered down that through budget conference negotiations, the agency had secured its at-risk funding and would remain intact.
As a result of the budget conference, AST was able to increase some measure of authority in the form of a new chief data officer position and the creation of the geographic information office, though 20 positions would be cut — eight of which were staffed as of May 4.
The negotiations also netted some additional reporting requirements for AST, but those leading the agency said they were happy to oblige.
Though officials within the agency are pleased their charge will remain, they are not dwelling on the events of the past several months. Rather, Erin Choy, spokesperson for the agency, told Government Technology that they are focused on the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January, and the many initiatives they would like to see come to fruition.
“Because of the way, in even-numbered years, the legislative session begins the second week in January, AST folks are working on proposed legislative budget requests and policy proposals,” she said. “So, yes, we were waiting for the governor’s action on the bill, but we are very focused on improving the current environment.”
As Government Technology has reported, Florida's IT agencies have faced considerable challenges at the hands of the state’s Legislature to this point. In 2005, the Florida State Technology Office was shuttered after losing its funding. And in 2012, the Agency for Enterprise Information Technology was pulled by Scott rather than allowing it to stand in title and function without funding.
Tue, 27 Jun 2017 04:15:00 PDT
Congress Unveils 14 Proposed Pieces of Self-Driving Vehicle Legislation
Less than five years ago, autonomous vehicle (AV) technology was merely a concept — a look at what the future may hold. But autonomous vehicles entering the public sphere has quickly become a question of when, not if; a reality in which AVs on our roadways is rapidly approaching. And more than 80 state bills introduced across the country are working toward regulating this developing industry.
The federal government also is working on regulation; during a congressional hearing on June 27, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection subcommittee discussed 14 proposed pieces of self-driving vehicle legislation that it plans to compile into one legislative package.
Traditionally states regulate drivers while the federal government regulates the vehicle. States have created the rules for driver eligibility through licensing and insurance requirements, and maintaining surface street and freeway conditions. Meanwhile the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines what type of vehicles are able to operate within the United States by enforcing the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).
But as U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., noted during the questioning period, “Vehicles are now the driver.”
As such, subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta, R-Ohio, noted in his opening statement that "we must define the right roles for federal, state and local government."
That being said, he insisted on a standard framework for highly autonomous vehicles because “we can’t have cars that stop at state lines.” The purpose of the meeting was to begin crafting the framework that will ultimately lead to bipartisan legislation that regulates self-driving vehicles, he explained.
14 Legislation Drafts
These are the 14 proposed pieces of self-driving vehicle legislation that the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection subcommittee plans to compile into one legislative package.
Practical Automated Vehicle Exemptions Act
Improving Mobility Access for Underserved Populations and Senior Citizens Advisory Council Act
Let NHTSA Enforce Autonomous Vehicle Driving Regulations (LEAD’R) Act
Renewing Opportunities for Automated Vehicle Development Act
Expanding Exemptions to Enable More Public Trust Act
Maximizing Opportunities for Research and the Enhancement of Automated Vehicles Act
Increasing Information and Notification to Foster Openness Regarding Automated Vehicle Matters to States Act
Disability Mobility Advisory Council Act
Automated Driving System Cybersecurity Advisory Council
Sharing Automated Vehicle Records with Everyone for Safety Act
Highly Automated Vehicle Pre-Market Approval Reduces Opportunities for More People to Travel Safely Act
Guarding Automakers Against Unfair Advantages Reported in Public Documents Act
Managing Government Efforts to Minimize Autonomous Vehicle Obstruction Act
Designating Each Car’s Automation Level Act
“The 14 bills before us today represent the starting point, by no means the ending point,” said subcommittee Chairwoman Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., adding that the bills were created solely by the committee's Republican majority members, but she and fellow members of the Democratic minority are willing to work with colleagues to craft the best legislation possible.
The bills in their current form rely on increasing the number of exemptions NHTSA is able to grant to vehicles that do not adhere to FMVSS, which were created with human drivers in mind. For example, there is a requirement for a steering wheel, acceleration and brake pedals. Increasing the number of exemptions the agency can grant has been requested by AV manufacturers, which are hampered in the amount of testing they are able to complete because of these exemptions. The suite of bills also codifies a national framework for federal legislation to overrule or pre-empt state regulations.
“The key elements of the majority approach are exemptions and state preemption,” she said. “Notably absent from these bills before us is any direction for rulemaking by NHTSA … exemptions are no substitute for updated safety standards.”
Frank Pallone, D-N.J., echoed the sentiments of Schakowsky. Frustrated that a representative from NHTSA was not able to testify, Pallone urged caution in moving forward with any legislation without the agency’s input.
“[We] should not move bills out of committee without hearing from the administration about how the bills could or would be implemented," Pallone said, and then described the “leadership vacuum” at the agency. He also mentioned how the budget released by the White House prescribes NHTSA an agenda driven by deregulation, which is counterproductive to the current challenge of regulating autonomous vehicles.
After the opening statements, the spotlight was on the panel composed of representatives from the automotive and technology industries, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and consumer protections groups. Making sure safety was the motivating factor in all policy decisions, certain members of the panel also spoke about avoiding a patchwork of regulations.
Mitch Bainwol, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, offered his support of the current package of bills. As a representative from the traditional automobile companies, Bainwol argued that the country needs a standard framework so auto companies can set uniform manufacturing settings. He along with other members of the panel applauded the proposed increase in the number of exemptions allowed by NHTSA.
A dissenting viewpoint came from Alan Morrison, associate dean for Public Interest and Public Service Law at the George Washington University Law School, who urged legislators to set clearer requirements by which exemptions from federal motor vehicle safety standards will be granted, if they plan to expand the limit.
Morrison also said he found the strategy relating to federal pre-emption of state laws perplexing. "I know of no law in which Congress has attempted to preclude states from acting when neither it nor any federal agency has taken any action in that subject area," he said.
This technology is transformative not only in terms of safety, but also increasing mobility options for underserved communities. In one exchange, David Strickland, spokesperson for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, acknowledged that there are 36 million Americans in the disabled community, and more than 20 million are able to work but are hampered by mobility obstacles. Similarly with an aging population, self-driving vehicles could prolong independence for seniors.
Some legislators questioned the panel on the level of consumer confidence. While several surveys have shown the hesitancy of the public to enter self-driving vehicles, Bainwol offered the perspective that the more exposed to self-driving technology people are, the more accepting they will be. He said he believes that the most common exposure will be through ride-sharing services, such as Lyft, Uber, Maven and Chariot. “AV technology will be available in less than five years,"he said, "and ubiquitous within 40.”
Because there are so many aspects surrounding the onset of autonomous vehicles to consider, Latta explained that "we want to make sure we get it right. [This] is a huge issue, so we need to make sure we get it right."
Tue, 27 Jun 2017 02:30:00 PDT