Budget cuts ahead, D.C. to merge connectivity, 'smart city' programs

Lindsey Parker at the 2019 NASCIO Midyear conference. (StateScoop)

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Confronted with a shrinking budget, Washington, D.C., Chief Technology Officer Lindsey Parker on Friday proposed merging the city’s digital connectivity and “smart city” programs into a single, community-based project.

Parker said her proposed #TechTogether Partnership would intertwine the city’s SmarterDC and ConnectDC programs by gathering industry partners, philanthropists and community organizations to support programs in both. The project is Parker’s way of doing “more with less by working smarter together,” she said in her testimony to city council during its 2021 budget hearing.

“’Smart cities’ has been a great marketing slogan for a number of different companies, but DC is inherently smart, and now we just need to be smarter. The only way we get there is if we’re more connected,” Parker told StateScoop.

SmarterDC hosts programs and analyzes data that supports the city’s efforts to expand economic sustainability, healthcare, transportation and other city missions, while ConnectDC funds programs that help residents get devices, digital-literacy training and affordable internet service. The new initiative, Parker said, would devote resources from both programs to expand work in four subject areas: increasing access to internet service, devices, digital literacy and technology-skills training within the D.C. government.

The merger of the two programs comes as D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed budget for the 2021 fiscal year reduces funding for Parker’s office to $119 million, a 1.3% reduction. Parker is also working with other agency leaders to identify ways technology can generate a 3-5% cost savings over the entire city budget.

“We’d be finding federal dollars, we’d be finding grant opportunities, we’d be finding industry leaders and industry partners to put up their own funding,” Parker said. “Anybody that comes and asks us about bridging the digital divide, smart tech initiatives, etc., I will say, ‘This is where we’re focused right now, this is how you can help, and this how our partnership will benefit the residents of DC.’”

The new initiative won’t become its own agency, but will be funded by partnerships and grants that D.C.’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer is currently pursuing, Parker said.

This story was edited to clarify details about the city’s budget.

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Lindsey Parker, OCTO, Washington D.C.
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