New York, NY – Under legislation introduced to the City Council, New York City would create a new technology “moonshot” division complete with its own Chief Technology Officer (CTO) as it follows the likes of Google and President Barack Obama. Legislation authored by Technology Committee Chair Robert Holden and free and open source software developer Council Member Ben Kallos, with co-sponsorship by former Technology Committee Chair Peter Koo, would establish an Office of Technology and Digital Services and create “Technology Officers” (“Tech Officers”) under the auspices of the CTO. The new office would compete for city technology projects, be embedded in city agencies, and work with the CTO to drive down costs, support forward thinking agency technology, and take on moonshot challenges to bring city government into the 21st Century.
“There is virtually no problem that can’t be solved with the use of technology, and our city agencies should constantly be exploring new and innovative ways to simplify and improve services through the use of technology,” said Council Member Robert Holden, Chair of the Committee on Technology and co-author. “Thanks in large part to the software development expertise of my colleague, Ben Kallos, we want tech experts to become a primary resource for this city on every front. The Office of Technology and Digital Services and its Technology Officers will ensure that we are always looking toward a better, more efficient future for New York.”
“We need to bring city government into the 21st century with tech officers embedded in every agency who can solve old problems by building new technology quickly. New York City’s new Chief Technology Officer can use a platoon of Tech Officers to modernize the government from the inside out to better serve our city.” said Council Member Ben Kallos, a free and open source software developer and co-author. “Chair Robert Holden brings years of teaching at the New York City College of Technology with the vision and legislation we need to upgrade government for the 21st Century.”
“Tech Officers would bring the expertise of the private sector into the folds of city government by allowing our own NYC employees to create the tools we need as opposed to relying on costly and unreliable outside contractors. Many thanks to Council Members Holden and Kallos for partnering on a good government proposal that looks to empower our local city agencies to operate with greater efficiency.” said Council Member Peter Koo, former Chair of the Committee on Technology and co-sponsor.
In an effort to bring City government to the 21st century the CTO would oversee both the Office of Technology and Digital Services and the Tech Officers to serve the functions of the United States Digital Services and 18F, to build new software tools and information architecture. Many of the Tech Officers would be placed at City agencies, as needed, and be tasked with developing open source custom software, web services, websites, and digital applications at the request of the agencies as well as providing cost estimates and competing with the private sector for government RFPs on technology projects in order to increase the speed of implementation and drive costs down. Any new software would be licenses free and open source and posted online for the public and other governments to use, improve, and share back with the city to save costs.
These new Tech Officers could help address issues at agencies such as the 10 day New York City Wireless Network (NYCWin) blackout last April that was brought down by a Y2K like bug even with the City paying $37 million per year to Northrop Grumman to maintain the network. Tech Officers could bring outsourced technology jobs back to the New York City and save taxpayers millions per year.
In 2014, President Barack Obama created the United States Digital Services (USDS), following the disastrous launch of Healthcare.gov to provide consultation services to federal agencies in information technology. The President tasked the USDS with one core mission: to improve and simplify the digital experience that people, and businesses have with their government. Since its launch, the USDS has gotten attention for helping veterans access health benefits with simple fixes to online applications.
That same year, in 2014, 18F was formed by the administration as the government’s “moonshot unit” after the initial problems with Healthcare.gov risked a policy initiative failure due to the government’s failure to execute from a technological perspective. The goal of 18F was to centralize forward-thinking technologists in government under one administrative umbrella, and to provide a vehicle for change that was not tied so closely to the administration and the highly political world in which it operates on a daily basis.
Whereas 18F is there to solve problems as needed, the USDS is tasked with addressing the list of administrative technological priorities.
The Office of Technology and Digital Services and Tech Officers would replace the NYC Technology Development Corporation (TDC) formed in 2012 by the Division of Economic Development as a City-funded not-for-profit technology consulting corporation whose sole clients are the agencies of the City of New York that was dissolved in January of 2019.
"New York City government has an extraordinary opportunity to use technology to not only make government work better and more efficiently now but also in the future by investing in new ideas and new people charged with the task”, said Andrew Rasiej, CEO and Founder of Civic Hall. “I applaud the Chair Holden and Councilman Kallos for their vision and leadership in establishing an Office of Technology and Digital Services to deliver for the people of New York City by finally delivering their government into the 21st Century”
"Effective governance requires strategic technology in the 21st century, which is why I'm pleased to see New York officials thinking about how to leverage tech to improve our city," said Julie Samuels, Tech:NYC Executive Director, "Spreading technological expertise throughout New York's government, along with reorganizing agencies to be more efficient, is a good step towards a stronger city."