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Spurring Economic Development With High Speed Networks

County Executive Ike Leggett proposed several new initiatives to improve the County’s economic development efforts in his inauguration remarks delivered on Dec. 1. The initiatives would combine to launch a new County economic agenda that reflects on a number of the key positions I have long advocated for.

I heartily welcome the County Executive’s decision to focus on economic development and entrepreneurship. I have long been a believer that, in order to continue to thrive, Montgomery County must have an economic base that is more diverse and competitive for new and growing companies in our region.

Building on my “Moving Montgomery Forward with Gigabit Speed Networks” initiative, County Executive Leggett is proposing creation of UltraMontgomery, which would be a high-speed fiber network that will connect Montgomery’s businesses and its academic and federal institutions.

I am extremely pleased that County Executive Leggett is moving forward with next-generation network infrastructure that will power economic growth and vitality in the County for years to come.

In August, I published the strategy paper “Moving Montgomery Forward with Gigabit Speed Networks” that addresses how new technology initiatives can drive growth in the local economy and leverage critical economic assets such as federal research labs. The plan led to me being named one of 16 finalists of the NewDEAL (Developing Exceptional American Leaders) New Ideas Challenge. The New Ideas Challenge gives recognition to smart, pro-growth progressive solutions that are being developed and tested by state and local leaders across the country.

To spur economic development and job creation in key sectors of Montgomery County’s economy, my white paper proposes building ultra high-speed, ultra reliable and ultra secure data networks in the County’s centers of research and economic activity. These are our innovation districts, such as the future White Oak development, the Great Seneca Science Corridor, Bethesda and Silver Spring.

These districts are attractive for investment and job creation because of the presence of federal agencies, such as the FDA, NIST, NIH and NOAA. He also points out the County’s significant private sector strengths and its highly educated resident workforce base focused around the life sciences, earth sciences, biotech and cyber-security industries.

The proposed development in White Oak, next to FDA, will be a great proving ground for these concepts.

I also praise County Executive Leggett’s initiatives to streamline the development process—an area where I have has successfully championed a variety of reforms. In addition, I support the Executive’s proposal to create a new tech-sector incubator.

I will join a roundtable discussion with County Executive Leggett and County-based entrepreneurs on Monday, Dec. 8, at the tech-sector incubator 1776.

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VIDEO: Pushing the technology envelope in MoCo

You might enjoy this short video reporting on my work promoting next generation internet infrastructure in Montgomery County.

I recently released a White Paper called “Moving Montgomery Forward with Gigabit Speed Networks.” If you are interested in this topic I hope you’ll read the report and let me know what you think.

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Moving Montgomery forward with technology

One of my top priorities on the County Council is to develop new technology initiatives that can drive growth in our local economy as well as strengthen the transparency and accountability of government.

If you read my new white paper on Moving Montgomery Forward with Gigabit Speed Networks, you will get a sense of why I think new technology initiatives are so important for our county.

To spur economic development in key sectors of Montgomery County’s economy, my white paper proposes the more effective utilization of ultra high-speed (100+ gigabits per second), ultra reliable, and ultra secure data networks in the county’s centers of research and economic activity — our innovation districts. These districts include White Oak, the Great Seneca Science Corridor, Bethesda and Silver Spring. What makes these districts so attractive for investment and job creation is the presence of federal agencies, such as the FDA, NIST, NIH, NOAA, a significant private sector toehold, and highly educated resident base focused around the life science, earth science, biotech and cybersecurity industries.

The specific challenge for the County is to form collaborative partnerships with the major federal institutions, non-profit, and private-sector companies to leverage these ultra high-speed connections. Specifically, the County will need a better understanding how federal agencies, such as the FDA and NIH, could use the next-gen applications made possible by the ultra high-speed networks. Then, the County should use these partnerships to attract businesses to build those applications in each innovation districts. The challenge is great, but the rewards could be substantial for the continued growth in the County’s economic base.

If you would like to dig a bit deeper into these exciting concepts, I invite you to read the white paper on this interactive website:

Moving Montgomery Forward with Gigabit Speed Networks

I am also thrilled to share a landmark new development in financial transparency for the county — the launch of our new online budget tool that is already becoming a national model. The tool is powered by raw data from dataMontgomery, an initiative called for in the Open Data Act of 2012, which I authored.

Some of the key highlights of the new budget tool include:

  • Allows residents to digitally navigate the current and past budgets with interactive graphs and charts.
  • Enhanced search capability and optimized for mobile, tablet and desktop.
  • Translatable into more than 90 languages.
  • Future modules of the tool will include spending and procurement data.

As the Council’s Lead Member for Digital Government, I am pleased to see the Montgomery County Executive–in collaboration with the private sector open data company, Socrata–develop an innovative tool that will help residents better understand our County’s budget and finances and more effectively participate in the decisions our government makes. We are working to replace the lengthy paper budget books and endless PDF files that have provided all of our budget information for years, with web-based tools that allow residents to see spending patterns and priorities over time, crunch their own numbers, and hold government more accountable.

budgetMontgomery

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on both of these please initiatives. Please do email me at Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov to let me know what you think!

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The Montgomery County Open Data Act of 2012

Today, the Montgomery County Council will vote on the Montgomery County Open Data Act of 2012; which I authored, serving as the Council’s Lead for Digital Government.  The bill received a unanimous committee recommendation and is co-sponsored by almost every member of the County Council.  

The bill will completely change how Montgomery County collects, manages and publishes data.  The bill:
  1. Establishes an open data policy for county government, with the intention of publishing a comprehensive data set for each department
  2. Requires creation of an implementation plan as a regulation that must be approved by the Council, to ensure there is no gap between the policy goal and actual implementation
  3. Mandates publishing results of public records requests submitted under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA), a first for any local government


The legislation is an important step in building the information infrastructure of future innovations in service delivery and resident engagement.  We are undertaking other steps as well, some of which may be unique for local or state government.  

The new open data legislation was developed in close collaboration with County Executive Isiah Leggett.  Mr. Leggett established CountyStat and 311 systems in 2007, two foundational and challenging innovation practices for local government.  Open data was a natural next step.  As a result of his support for the legislation and participation in crafting it, our county’s open data program is not controlled or supported by just one branch of government, but rather has the support of a unified county government — legislative and executive.

To put this legislation in context, a broader open government initiative is also underway in Montgomery County, coordinated across government entities that are not legally under the aegis of the county government or subject to decisions made by the County Council.  Our school system is technically a state agency, as is our parks and planning agency and also our community college, while our Housing Opportunities Commission is a quasi federal agency.  With support from our technology committee I urged them in this direction, and now all are participating in developing a unified open government strategy.  This is possible thanks to the county’s long-standing Interagency Technology Policy Coordinating Committee, which was founded by the County Council in 19XX.  Their high-level work-plan is here.

As a result of my initial discussions about open data with the executive branch last year, the county has already published open data sets on a Socrata platform.  A new openMontgomery website will launch shortly with many high value data sets, including the entire county budget, financial information on expenditures, and more.  

The suggestion to place most of the definitions in the legislation in an “implementation plan” came, not surprisingly, from the executive branch.  As the executive branch explained the complexities in how each department would implement the open data policy, it made sense to me to let them draft a regulation that will govern how the data is collected and published for each department.  So long as the County Council has the ability to change that implementation plan regulation (which we do), I concluded that it would be better to let them take the lead in defining precisely how to proceed.  My support for this approach was particularly informed by open government advocates who pointed out to me that just rushing to put up data up for the sake of data is expensive, wasteful, and inefficient.  Proceeding deliberately and collaboratively makes more sense.

The real benefit to this method is that the County Council will soon have a plan to review that will go into greater detail than the council could have prepared as a policy, and we will be able to modify that plan.  Based on what I have learned about how challenging it can be for a department to implement open government principles, I suspect there is a real gap in the intentions of a jurisdiction’s open data law and how it is implemented.  The core question of what counts as “data” at each different department or agency is something that it would be impossible for legislation to truly define.  And how will a data set change and expand over time as the county invests more resources in the effort?  Those are the questions that really matter, and now the Council will have a say in the implementation.

My goal was simply to establish a data set for each department that would help the council as well as residents measure the work of that department and its governing policies; as well as provide data that app developers would find useful.  It is, of course, the developers who will take the data and use it to improve access to services by creating new applications.  

The second part of the legislation requires the County Government and County Council to publish the results of public record requests on the internet.  Our government is subject to the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA), which provides a clear right to residents to demand information from the government.  In practice, however, this right is not effective, according to the State Integrity Investigation.  

While that investigation did not focus on Montgomery County but rather on the provisions of the statute, the Open Data Act will provide a new mechanism to ensure effective implementation in Montgomery County by posting MPIA requests on a county website, the status of the response to that request, and then the response itself.

Implementation of this standard will again be defined in a plan that will be reviewed by the Council, in order to help us avoid problems that beset the Port Authority of New York, which established a similar policy.  As far as I am aware, Montgomery County will be the first local government in the country to establish this practice.  No states have established it, nor have any Federal agencies.

When it comes to innovation and creativity, dynamism and progressivism, I want to see Montgomery County recognized among San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Boston, New York City, Seattle and similar metro areas with strong innovation economies. Not only do these areas provide global leadership in the private sector but their local governments are breaking new ground with technology and services.

Montgomery County has what it takes to compete, there is no question. We have one of America’s strongest IT and biotech sectors, we have one of the world’s most educated and highly skilled workforces.

But we can do better to position ourselves regionally, nationally, globally.  That is why I have put so much effort into my role as Council Lead for Digital Government, and I believe the Open Data Act will be an important step forward.