Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Using Data to Transform Policing in New Orleans

    Fifteen year old Operation Spark student Grace Clark helps New Orleans Police Chief Michael Harrison write his first line of code: nopd.showRecords(1000) (Photo credit: Tyler Gamble/New Orleans Police Department)

    The power of data to transform our society for the better is incredible.  One of the areas to use data for immediate impact is in policing. Recently, the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing provided recommendations on how to best use the power of data to improve policing, including better use of data and technology to build community trust and reduce inappropriate interactions with residents.

    On May 21, the President announced the launch of the Police Data Initiative, as a follow-up to this Task Force. Under this program, 24 jurisdictions nationwide have committed to open up datasets about policing, and to participate in a peer-learning network to share data innovations across law enforcement agencies. One of these jurisdictions is the City of New Orleans.

    Last week, New Orleans held an event to preview three datasets on policing they plan to open to the general public (use of force, 911 calls for service with arrival times included, and field interview cards).  At the event, city officials worked with a group of young coders to build apps powered by this newly unlocked data.

  • Green Button Initiative Makes Headway with Electric Industry and Consumers

    The United States has long been an international leader in promoting technology and innovation policy while providing consumers the rights and access to the resources they need to derive economic value and make informed decisions. This administration has worked toward these goals through the liberalization of Federal data, and in 2013, President Obama signed an executive order to commit the government to releasing open, machine-readable data. This has enabled public access to tens of thousands of government datasets, which are directly available for download at

    In that spirit, the White House, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology launched the Green Button Initiative in 2012, providing American businesses and families with simple and secure access to their energy consumption data in a standardized format, an effort that has since grown significantly in size and sophistication.

  • Celebrating Five Years of the National Ocean Policy

    It’s an exciting summer for the ocean, and we’re not just talking about Shark Week. President Obama proclaimed June 2015 as National Oceans Month, and, in mid-June, Capitol Hill Ocean Week here in Washington, DC, featured a series of displays and symposia highlighting the multifaceted wonders of the ocean and the challenges of conserving and managing ocean resources.

    This week marks the anniversary of a significant milestone in the journey to improve ocean governance in the United States: five years ago, on July 19, 2010, President Obama signed an Executive Order creating the first National Ocean Policy and a Federal interagency National Ocean Council (NOC), which we co-chair, to implement it.

    To honor this anniversary, we offer some reflections here about the importance of the National Ocean Policy in helping the Nation meet its stewardship responsibilities for the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes, and the work that the NOC and its partners across the country have done to make this Policy a reality.

  • Private-Public Collaboration Underway to Create “Wireless Workforce of the Future”

    On July 15, OSTP hosted more than 80 leaders from wireless companies, Federal agencies, and academic institutions at the White House Summit On Wireless Workforce Development, focusing on the urgent need to train workers for careers in the wireless industry and commitments that will change the trajectory of workforce development for the wireless industry.

    The attendees recognized the great opportunity to create an even more diverse workforce through increased recruitment of underrepresented persons, including Veterans, women, and minorities.

    There is a nexus between the highly skilled Veterans community and the skill sets required for wireless-infrastructure deployment.  Leveraging this nexus will help improve the proficiency of the workforce that builds, upgrades, and maintains wireless infrastructure, ensuring that America can meet the growing demand for wireless broadband, and enabling the United States to continue to lead in the global telecommunications marketplace.

  • Unleashing Digital Data to Accelerate Materials Discovery, Development, and Deployment

    The availability of large, publicly accessible digital data sets has unleashed a wave of innovation throughout numerous fields, helping solve significant problems in business, biology, and astronomy.  But the potential of such data has not yet been fully realized in materials science and engineering, in part because of the wide variety of relevant properties and methods to measure and model those properties.  This diversity, however, also stands to provide rich insights if the mysteries the data hold can be unlocked.

  • Accelerating the Use of Prizes to Address Tough Challenges

    Later this year, the Federal government will celebrate the fifth anniversary of, a one-stop shop that has prompted tens of thousands of individuals, including engaged citizens and entrepreneurs, to participate in more than 400 public-sector prize competitions with more than $72 million in prizes.

    The May 2015 report to Congress on the Implementation of Federal Prize Authority for Fiscal Year 2014 highlights that is a critical component of the Federal government’s use of prize competitions to spur innovation.  Federal agencies have used prize competitions to  improve the accuracy of lung cancer screenings, develop environmentally sustainable brackish water desalination technologies, encourage local governments to allow entrepreneurs to launch new startups in a day, and increase the resilience of communities in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Numerous Federal agencies have discovered that prizes allow them to:

    • Pay only for success and establish an ambitious goal without having to predict which team or approach is most likely to succeed.  
    • Reach beyond the “usual suspects” to increase the number of citizen solvers and entrepreneurs tackling a problem.
    • Bring out-of-discipline perspectives to bear.
    • Increase cost-effectiveness to maximize the return on taxpayer dollars.
    • Inspire risk-taking by offering a level playing field through credible rules and robust judging mechanisms.

    To build on this momentum, the Administration will hold an event this fall to highlight the role that prizes play in solving critical national and global issues. The event will showcase public- and private-sector relevant commitments from Federal, state, and local agencies, companies, foundations, universities, and non-profits. Individuals and organizations interested in participating in this event or making commitments should send us a note at by August 28, 2015.

    Commitments may include the announcement of specific, ambitious incentive prizes and/or steps that will increase public- and/or private-sector capacity to design high-impact prizes and challenges.  For example:

    • Federal, state, and local government agencies could increase their capacity to design and implement ambitious prizes by recruiting full-time prize experts, establishing agency-wide policies for incentive prizes, and providing prize-related mentoring and training to their employees. Agencies could also identify and make available assets that they have – such as datasets, user facilities, and expertise in testing and evaluation – that could be used to support incentive prizes.
    • Companies and foundations could partner with the public sector to sponsor incentive prizes using the partnership authority provided by the America COMPETES Act.  For example, GE, the NFL, Under Armor and NIST are using a challenge to advance the development of technologies that can detect early stage mild traumatic brain injuries and improve brain protection.
    • Foundations could sponsor fellowships for prize designers in the public sector to encourage the development and implementation of ambitious prizes in areas of national importance.  Foundations could also sponsor workshops that bring together companies, university researchers, non-profits, and government agencies to identify potential high-impact incentive prizes.
    • Universities could establish courses and online material to help students and mid-career professionals learn to design effective prizes and challenges.
    • Researchers could conduct empirical research on incentive prizes and other market-shaping techniques (e.g. Advance Market Commitments, milestone payments) to increase our understanding of how and under what circumstances these approaches can best be used to accelerate progress on important problems.

    Working together, we can use incentive prizes to inspire people to solve some of our toughest challenges.

    Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. 

    Jenn Gustetic is Assistant Director for Open Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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