Oakland embraces technology to increase City Hall efficiency

February 5, 2013 8:50:25 PM PST
City government isn't always efficient. That's why one organization is partnering with local governments to help them catch up with technology and make things easier for its citizens.

This innovative program has been around for three years and is called Code for America. It is doing a great job at bridging the digital divide between the public and private sectors.

Three techies who work for Code for America will help simplify things at Oakland's City Hall. They are being dubbed Oakland's newest geeks. Code of America is a lot like Teach for America but instead these workers will bring the latest in technology to local government.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan is embracing the partnership. "In our case I know they're gonna start on just helping us make sure that our software is quicker, faster, so that we're more efficient as a government," she said.

If you've ever tried to access records, you know it could take months to obtain.

Jennifer Pahlka, Code for America's founder, wants simplify that process. "Someone wants information about what happened in Occupy Oakland for instance and it could take a very long time for those records to be released even though by law they should be made available," she said.

The three Code for America fellows will work on putting a system in place to track records and release them quickly. They will also create a system that will make the bidding process between the city and contractors easier and faster with more transparency. Oakland is one of 10 cities in the country that will benefit this year from having these fellows. In all there are 26 men and women working for only a year.

The organization relies on grants. That's why the fellows are only paid $35,000. For instance, Cris Cristina recently worked as a design manager at Cisco making a lot more money. How much more? "A bit more than I am now," he said.

But many of these Silicon Valley companies value people who have done community service. So working for the so-called "Peace Corps for geeks" can only help.

As Cristina puts it, "It was my chance to be an Oaklander, working inside City Hall here in Oakland," he said. "It was really my chance to give back to the city I love."

There are two other Bay Area cities that are involved in this program: San Francisco and San Mateo.


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