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Politics & Government

Pittsburgh Chosen as 'Code for America' City

Pittsburgh has been chosen as one of seven cities nationwide to house Code for America fellows, who will spend a year delving into a city issue and developing applications to tackle it. The issue the city has chosen to take on is procurement.

“Procurement refers to all the money the city spends on everything,” said Laura Meixell, analytics and strategy manager for the city, “from services and dealing with properties that we own to thinking about the contracts that we have, to the technology and the goods that we purchase as a city.”

Currently, there is not a lot of transparency around how money is spent, who is getting contracts and what the process is to secure a contract.

“So we’d really like to open that up,” said Matt Barron, policy manager for the city, “both to provide some transparency to the public but also to be able to open up the ability to get city contracts to a wider group of people, a more diverse group of people, not the same old large vendors that tend to get the contracts year after year.”

Code for America is a volunteer year-of-service program in which fellows with technology experience join with city governments. Over the last four years of the program, 130 fellows have produced some 55 web apps for 30 municipal governments.

Meixell was a Code for America fellow, working on a corrections project in Louisville, Ky. She said that resulted in a program that is now being expanded to Denver. So, whatever is developed in Pittsburgh to better track city spending, could have uses for other city governments.

“Through this process, we’re going to be connected to national organizations, national experts in the field, national media, national funders, national foundations,” Barron said. “It’s really going to raise the profile of Pittsburgh as a city trying to do these reforms and change the way government works in a positive way.”

The fellows will begin training in Pittsburgh in January, and in February they will start the process of interviewing government officials, vendors and others involved in city procurement. After that, the projects will start to be developed. The city is paying $100,000 to cover their work and local foundations are paying $330,000.

Forty city applied for the 2015 Code for America program, Pittsburgh joins Albuquerque, N.M.; Indianapolis; Miami; Somerville, Mass.; and West Sacramento and Vellejo, Calif.