Civic News
Baltimore / Technology

The City of Baltimore is creating digital services and performance teams to improve access

$3.2 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated from the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs is going towards modernizing city government.

Baltimore City Hall. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Baltimore’s city government is allocating $2.1 million in 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to create a digital services team headed by its Chief Data Officer Justin Elszasz.

The new department under Elszasz is building its four-person team by hiring a UX designer, program manager, full stack developer and director. The digital team will be tasked with building more accessible and equitable digital tools for residents to access City of Baltimore services. There’ll be a strong emphasis on using open source technology to create those tools.

“This is an opportunity for people in the technology sector who really understand equity and want to help reduce barriers to government services to see what technology can bring to the fold,” Elszasz told Technical.ly.

The positions will be available on the city’s hiring site within the next two weeks. Those interested can email Elszasz in the meantime.

An additional $1.1 million of ARPA funds is also being invested in expanding the capacity of the Mayor’s Office of Performance & Innovation with a City Performance Team. This new team will use existing programs like the budget book, CitiStat and the Mayor’s Action Plan to streamline performance measures. With the newly codified barometers, each city agency will be able to provide performance plans and reports to the public for more government transparency.

“Since taking office, one of my main goals has been to ensure our city government is operating in the most up-to-date fashion and at optimal efficiency,” said Mayor Brandon Scott in the press release. “This investment will help enhance our performance and, ultimately, allow us to move ever closer towards the state-of-the-art government that our residents deserve.”

This push to create internal digital services teams in city government reflects a national trend. Philly has its own digital services team that got its first director in May while DC established its digital services team in October of last year, using $5.2 million to create the group. The federal government has had the United States Digital Service and 18F delivering digital services and technology products since 2014. Even the U.S. House of Representatives took steps to launch its own digital services squad. The local level is just starting to catch on as civic tech becomes its own industry within the public sector.

Elszasz recalled seeing a presentation from a former deputy director of the U.K. Government Digital Service eight years ago that summed up the philosophy of the department. The former director put on the screen a simple form that read, “enter your name and your address” and a button that said, “fix everything for me.”

“That’s the ideal. That’s how simple government should be,” Elszasz said. “You tell us what the issue is and give us your name. We’ll clear out all the baggage and get all of the processes out of the way to simplify this. The burden of proof and the burden of effort to get through something shouldn’t be on the resident who’s really, probably, in a time of need. It should be on the government to provide a simple and effective service.”

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Companies: City of Baltimore

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