Tag Archives: public policy

NCDG Fellow Contributes to “State Smart” Initiative



November 7, 2014

Christoph Demers, Fellow at the National Center for Digital Government, contributed to the National Priorities Project’s “State Smart” initiative, from June – August, 2014. Released October 2014, State Smart examines how federal dollars flow to states. State Smart aims to recreate the Census Bureau’s Consolidated Federal Funds Report (CFFR), which had been a vital tool to economists and researchers for decades, before it was cancelled in 2011 due to budget cuts. Other attempts by the federal government to make government spending data more accessible, such as the USASpending.gov website, have thus far failed to provide researchers with a reliable and consistent data source. Most recently, a Government Accountability Office report found that for 2012, USASpending.gov was missing $619 billion in federal government spending.

With State Smart, as with the CFFR before it, researchers can download a wide range of (clean!) data sets detailing state and federal level funding flows, including data on federal grants to states, federal contracts, DOD contracts, business and individual, and federal compensation. As the Washington Post noted, the CFFR was “crucial to the work of a small set of researchers, academics and journalists, offering a broad view of how federal money is transferred to states.” But State Smart isn’t meant to be a resource just for researchers and journalists.

State Smart goes beyond the Census’ Consolidated Federal Funds Reports, as it is housed in a user-friendly website with comparative and within-state analyses. The accessible nature of the site allows any interested member of the public to quickly gain an overview of how federal dollars play a role in their own as well as other states. For example, here we see State Smart’s graphic representation of per-person federal aid to individuals by state, with Massachusetts highlighted in green:


Or this 10 year view of the California’s revenue by source:



Importantly, State Smart will be updated as new data from various government sources flows in, ensuring that CFFR-type data will continue to be available to researchers, journalists, and active citizens.

Demers, a research intern at the National Priorities Project, assisted National Priorities Project staff in combining and then analyzing the assorted data sets that make up State Smart, including those from the Census, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the IRS, and USASpending.gov, among others. “Christoph played a critical role in the launch of State Smart. He quickly learned the nuances of troubleshooting and cleaning disparate data sources, and the final product is a testament to his detailed-oriented approach,” said Becky Sweger, Director of Data and Technology at the National Priorities Project.


The National Priorities Project is a national non-profit, non-partisan research organization dedicated to making complex federal budget information transparent and accessible.


Schweik, Students Visit International Maker Faire

Associate Professor Charles Schweik (environmental conservation and public policy) took a group of students last weekend to the international Maker Faire in New York City. The event, which has been touted as the “greatest show and tell on earth,” showcases diverse do-it-yourself technologies, including three-dimensional design and printing; unmanned robotic vehicles such as an open-source underwater robot; and devices made from do-it-yourself low-cost computing methods.

In addition to public policy and administration students from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the group included students from the UMass departments of natural resource conservation; engineering; and communication, as well as computer science students from Mt. Holyoke College and some eighth-graders from Amherst Regional Middle School. The students were part of a new undergraduate course offered by the UMass department of environmental conservation and the Center for Public Policy and Administration, which encourages students to undertake collaborative “maker” projects to solve environmental science and management problems.

Projects these interdisciplinary students are working on include: balloon-based remote sensing of land cover; monitoring water and air contamination; and low-cost scientific equipment for inventorying or monitoring wildlife. The student teams are documenting and sharing their research with Public Laboratory for Science, an organization committed to making do-it-yourself scientific equipment and methods available to underserved communities around the globe.

Last weekend’s field trip is part of a larger collaborative effort between the UMass colleges of Natural Sciences; Social and Behavioral Sciences; and Engineering, working in partnership with Amherst Media to conduct outreach in the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools related to open science and “making.” This town-gown partnership was highlighted in a recent White House report on university efforts to encourage the national maker movement.

The trip to New York City was made possible by support from a UMass Amherst Public Service Endowment Grant, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the College of Engineering.

Fountain Addresses Big Data and the Common Good


July 10, 2014, Chicago

Distinguished Professor Jane Fountain spoke at the 26th annual meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, held in Chicago last month.

Fountain participated in a featured panel titled “Big Data Across Organizational Forms and Markets.” Her presentation focused on the capacity of government institutions to leverage large data sets and to develop public policies to exploit innovation while protecting the public good.

This was the latest public address that Fountain has given on the topic of big data, a term used to describe complex data sets that are too large to process using traditional computational applications. Increasingly sophisticated technology has allowed social scientists to analyze this kind of data with greater nuance and accuracy.

Last fall, Fountain was one of the experts invited to the Oxford Internet Institute’sworkshop “Responsible Research Agendas for Public Policy in the Era of Big Data.” She participated as the director of the National Center for Digital Government. In addition to academic experts and researchers, the workshop convened senior agency staff from several federal bureaus, including labor statistics; census; and the Office for the Management of the Budget.

Photo: public domain photograph, By User:Shoffman11 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The political context of healthcare.gov

Government IT is always produced and implemented in political context. The London School of Economics US American Politics and Policy blog editor asked me to write about the healthcare.gov launch. Here’s the post aiming to put the launch into the context of other large government IT projects and polarized politics. It’s titled:

The difficulties of Healthcare.gov need to be seen in the context of an acrimonious political climate and the poor record of large and complex IT projects.