A group of technology leaders from organizations such as Facebook and Kleiner Perkins has launched a volunteer initiative to find IT professionals to set up and run the tech to help the U.S. federal, state and local governments respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The effort, called the U.S. Digital Response, will match data experts, engineers, designers, and healthcare experts with government officials in need of a hand. Thus far, they have already signed on 1,000 volunteers.
The initiative was founded by a number of ex-federal chief technology officers with an ongoing interest in helping governments into the digital age: former Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officers Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America; Cori Zarek, now with the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University; and Ryan Panchadsaram, who is now a technical advisor with Kleiner Perkins. Raylene Yung, a former engineering leader at Facebook and Stripe, is also a co-founder.
Tech professionals interested in volunteering, as well as government officials seeking help, are asked to fill out a short form. Then, the USDR team will vet volunteers and match their skills to the project needs.
Government agencies can request an entire team and do not need to be hired by the government agency itself (though the agency itself may have procurement policies to consider). In most cases, no funding would be required. The volunteers will use their own equipment, as the USDR expects most work to be remote in nature.
The USDR site lists two projects already underway.
One is Project N95, the National COVID-19 Medical Equipment Clearinghouse. This initiative works with manufacturers with the capacity to produce personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, as well as with governments to determine demand and prioritization.
The second project, Neighbor Express, will help to provide food deliveries and helpful hands to those in need. Currently underway in the City of Concord, CA, with the help of Meals on Wheels, the initiative wants to scale this platform to other locations.
Helping government agencies make better use of IT is the goal of Pahlka’s Code For America. “Government that works isn’t about taking the government we have today and just pushing those old processes into bits and bytes. It’s about rethinking how government SHOULD work and figuring out how to do that fast enough to actually meet the need,” she wrote in a 2019 blog post.