Tech Talk

A Cautionary Tale for Any Government IT Project: L.A.'s Failed iPad Program

Two years ago, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) tried an interesting new experiment: give every student a tablet computer equipped with a digital curriculum. It was a bold move that was supposed to push Los Angeles public schools into the 21st century. It turned out to be a disaster.

The idea was certainly huge, requiring the purchase of 650,000 Apple iPads, networking gear and educational software from Pearson -- all at a cost of nearly $1.3 billion. L.A. Schools Superintendent John Deasy, who launched the program in 2013, also saw it as a way to help the city’s low-income students. Until Deasy’s announcement, students had limited access to digital education tools at computer labs, which couldn’t accommodate all students at the same time. READ MORE

The Payoffs of Financial Transparency

For years, if residents of Rocklin, Calif., near Sacramento, wanted to review the city’s budget priorities or see how those priorities linked to revenue and spending, they had to sort through numerous PDFs. While the financial information was useful, it wasn’t very user-friendly. And that didn’t satisfy city leaders who prided themselves on Rocklin’s long tradition of transparency, according to Kim Sarkovich, Rocklin’s chief financial officer and assistant city manager.

But when a city posts its financial data in a format that’s easy to find, read and understand, the payoff can be huge. That has certainly been the case with New York City’s Checkbook NYC. The website, which was launched in 2010, lets residents track how the city spends its money through a very navigable dashboard of charts and tables. New York was not the first city to make its financial information so readily available and transparent, but the Sunlight Foundation says it’s “one of the best examples of an open checkbook-style website that we’ve found.”  READ MORE

Have Non-Lethal Weapons Reduced Deadly Police Force?

When Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown during an altercation in Ferguson, Mo., the incident led to protests and fierce debate about the use of deadly force by police. That controversy is again front-page news with the recent fatal shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer in South Carolina. While both shootings have raised serious questions about the use of deadly force, the technology for non-lethal ammunition and weapons continues to evolve.

In February, the Ferguson Police Department began testing a device called "The Alternative" that docks a ping-pong sized projectile on the end of a handgun. The mechanism slows a bullet down as it enters the projectile, so that when it impacts a person, it’s less likely to penetrate the body but still incapacitates the person. Alternative Ballistics, which makes the device, describes it as “an option in a lethal force situation.” READ MORE

New Apps May Make Giving and Getting Government Aid Easier

Human services agencies have never really been on the technological cutting edge. These are organizations where the ways of doing things have often been entrenched for years, and these agencies typically have been slow to adopt innovative technologies to improve the way services are delivered to the poor.

But as with the rest of government, unrelenting tight budgets have human services agencies up against the wall, forcing them to adopt changes, including new technologies, in order to survive with fewer resources. One of those changes is the adoption of self-service delivery using mobile technology -- akin to some of the more innovative practices already taking place in the private sector, including retail, banking and insurance companies. READ MORE

States Turn to Technology to Calculate Prison Sentences

America incarcerates a lot of people -- more than any other country. We have only 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prison population. With approximately 2.4 million people behind bars, including 1.36 million in state prisons, that’s roughly 1 in 99 people locked up.

We may also have the most complex sentencing system in the world. Along with the vast number of criminal offenses (there were 4,450 federal crimes in the U.S. Code in 2008), there's an array of rules and exceptions that impact a defendant’s sentence. These include the severity of the crime, the number of offenses committed, credits for time already served, and the defendant’s criminal history. READ MORE