An Early Win for CfA’s DC Project: SF Addressing System Open-Sourced

We at Code for America are excited to celebrate an early win for open government and our DC project. A multimillion dollar IT project, developed for the the City and County of San Francisco, is now available at no cost to any government that needs it. It’s an important step towards a new model of government IT that Civic Commons (Code for America’s DC project) will enable.

A city’s database of street addresses is critical to many of its core operations — from picking up trash to assessing taxes. The more accurate that database, the more effective the city is at providing services and generating revenue. Addresses missing from the system can’t be taxed, and revenue is lost. Under the direction of CIO Chris Vein, programmers in the City and County of San Francisco and GIS services firm Farallon Geographics developed the Enterprise Addressing Software (EAS) as a web-based system for managing the city’s master database of physical addresses, referencing Assessor’s parcels and the City’s street centerline network. Vein expects that the EAS will result in millions of dollars of additional revenue for San Francisco over the next five to ten years.

Usually, the story of a project like the EAS would end there. But Vein saw the possibility of doing things a better way: since San Francisco own the rights to the code for the EAS, and all cities need something t hat performs this function, they could make it available to other cities for free. Why does Vein want this? Because he’s dealing with an enormous budget crisis, and he knows the current system of each city working in its own silo is unsustainable. Public CIOs will only be able to meet the challenges they are facing if they start sharing, and the sharing has to begin somewhere. The long-term benefit to San Francisco is that as other jurisdictions adopt the software, they will also contribute to its maintenance — producing better software for everyone at a lower cost per participant.

CfA founder Jennifer Pahlka connected with Vein in her initial recruitment for cities to participate over a year ago. Vein wanted to participate in Code for America, but couldn’t host a team due to a city-wide IT consolidation which would have disrupted a project team. But he offered the Enterprise Addressing System (EAS) as an asset to Code for America (or rather, to the Commons, under Code for America stewardship) in order to prime the pump for a marketplace of shared civic applications. A few months later, when the District of Columbia team defined their project as a enabling code sharing between cities, Pahlka went back to Vein and took him up on the offer.

Thanks to O’Reilly Media’s generous support, Code for America was able to leverage the talents of open-source veteran Karl Fogel to work with San Francisco to prepare their EAS software for sharing. Over the last couple of months, Karl worked with lead programmer Paul McCullough and GIS manager Jeff Johnson to prepare the software for the open source community: moving the code to a public repository, transferring bugs and documentation, and creating forums for users. Now, as Karl described on the Civic Commons blog, “From this point forward, all of SF’s development on EAS is taking place in the public project.”

We’re proud of Chris Vein’s vision for choosing to open-source the software and the whole team who made it possible. Not only will this software benefit governments, but this experience will inform our fellows and our team as we continue this process, connecting governments, sharing technology, and saving tax payer dollars.

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