Virginia’s smart communities work expected to continue under new governor

Gov.-elect Ralph Northam is expected to continue the initiative, for which the state's work group is now preparing its final report.

Virginia’s smart communities work group was originally directed to deliver a final report this Saturday, but the gubernatorial transition has delayed that deadline to March. While the project’s leadership will change, Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson said she believes Virginia’s smart technologies work will be continued under incoming Gov. Ralph Northam.

The executive work group was created as a staffing arm for the state’s smart communities projects, and Jackson told StateScoop the group includes members from across state government because they wanted to ensure it would survive political changes like this one. Because Jackson’s office will be dissolved after Gov.-elect Ralph Northam is sworn into office on Saturday, leadership of the work group will be passed off to the secretary of commerce and trade, an office to which Northam has named Esther Lee, a former senior policy adviser to the U.S. secretary of Commerce under President Barack Obama.

The work group, which is comprised of cabinet secretaries of transportation, public safety and homeland security, commerce and trade, health and human resources, and the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT), a body created to use technology to drive economic development, made 10 recommendations in its initial report released in October that Jackson said she believes will see continuity into the next administration.

Among the recommendations are: the launch of a statewide smart communities challenge modeled after the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Global Cities Team Challenge; adoption of interoperability standards; the creation of a cybersecurity and privacy plan; continuing support for the state’s broadband expansion; and the creation of sustainable funding for projects related to smart communities technologies like sensors and data analytics.


Already the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate has awarded CIT $4.8 million to continue its work around the use of Internet of Things technologies in public safety and commercial markets.

Lastly, the work group also recommended in its October report that the state create and fund an independent cross-agency coordinating body to ensure the state’s smart communities efforts continue. That group’s charter would be to develop rules around the use of data sharing and ownership, provide mentoring to communities seeking to adopt new technologies, act as a clearinghouse for best practices, and develop a data infrastructure and analytics strategy.

How these recommendations evolve will be revealed in the work group’s final report scheduled to be released in March, but so far it has characterized the state’s challenges as “complex.” Key focus areas to undergo continued study by the state, as recommended by the group, are:

  • City platform/dashboard
  • Data governance
  • Energy, water and waste management
  • Healthcare
  • Public safety
  • Public wireless and broadband
  • Transportation

Created by Gov. Terry McAuliffe through Executive Directive 13 in August, 2017, the group’s recommendations have set the foundation for how future smart community efforts could come to life in the state. Jackson said the group is positioned in a way that legislation wouldn’t necessarily be needed to turn recommendations into results, but will most likely be a combination of factors that bring projects to life.


“It could be federal funding, it could be state funding,” it could come from a language change that redirects a portion of the transportation budget, it could be further executive directives, or guidelines of existing programs could be adjusted to integrate new smart communities project, Jackson said.

Northam’s office was not available to comment on how the program will fit into his administration’s technology plans in the coming four years.

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