As another year comes to an end, it’s time to celebrate the most inspiring stories that came out of government agencies in the United States in 2018.
On many fronts 2018 was difficult. It was challenging, stressful, and filled with uncertainty. We could all use a reminder about the inspiring events that happened this year thanks to government agencies large and small.
Rather than dwell on downers or let politics foul the mood, let’s look back at the most inspirational government successes of the year.
Said ‘nah brah’ to coral-killing chemicals
Hawaii became the first U.S. state to ban the sale and distribution of sunscreens containing chemicals believed to harm life in the ocean. Research has shown the two banned chemicals, oxybenzone and octinoxate, have a toxic effect on coral reefs and other marine ecosystems in Hawaii and beyond.
The ban is a big deal for the many-island state. According to Ocean Conservancy Inc, “coral reefs in Hawaii are exposed to over 6,000 tons of sunscreen lotion every year.” The bill goes into effect in 2021.
Gave information more freedom
The federal agency 18F, part of the the General Services Administration (GSA), came into 2018 with a solid reputation as a powerhouse of productivity. It further proved itself this year when it launched a redesign of FOIA.gov, a portal where people can submit Freedom of Information Act requests to any federal agency and access data about agency FOIA activities. Though the new website was mandated by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, the team went above and beyond.
Working closely with the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) and Chief Information Officer, along with a community of open government advocates, 18F staffers created a website built to meet the needs of the public. The Sunshine Foundation hailed the website launch as a “welcome reminder that 18F can build beautiful services when an agency is willing and able to fund them.”
Blazed a trail for reefer redemption
Following the decriminalization of marijuana use in California, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office teamed up with nonprofit Code for America to pilot technology that automates and expedites the process of reducing or expunging 4,940 eligible felony marijuana convictions in the city, some of which date back to 1975.
Code for America built Clear My Record to help the millions of people with criminal convictions that “make it difficult to find and keep a job, get a professional license, enroll in public benefits, secure housing, and obtain a student loan.” Clear My Record promises to help government agencies overcome resource constraints by streamlining record clearance processing. Following the pilot, Clear My Record’s partners now encompass 14 California counties, a key expansion toward its goal of expunging 250,000 marijuana convictions by the end of 2019.
Created a clean emissions plan worth copying
California demonstrated people, business, and government can change behaviors to fight climate change. The California Air Resources Board announced the state has already achieved its audacious 2020 goal to reduce the emission of planet-warming greenhouse gases to 1990 levels. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger—who signed the 2006 law requiring the emissions reduction—pointed out that the state hit the goal four years early even as “our economy grows by a nation-leading 4.9% and our unemployment rate is at a historic low.”
This year, California also set more ambitious targets: to get 50 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2025, and 100 percent clean electricity by 2045. With those goals in mind, this year the California Air Resources Board voted to require public transit agencies in the state to transition to fully electric, 100 percent zero-emissions buses by 2040. Not to be outdone, Washington, D.C. also decided to transition the city’s electric grid to run on 100 percent electric energy even sooner, by 2032.
Mapped the roots of the American Dream
With so much government data gone MIA in the past two years, it’s a relief to know that some data sets have been made more accessible. The U.S. Census Bureau, in partnership with researchers from Harvard and Brown universities, created the Opportunity Atlas, a public resource providing hyperlocal data about American people and neighborhoods that can be used to give children the best chance to rise out of poverty.
The New York Times explained the Opportunity Atlas, which uses anonymous data collected on 20 million Americans from childhood through adulthood, makes local disparities “much less theoretical, and easier to act on.” Researchers are already planning to use the Opportunity Atlas data to re-examine the effectiveness of past federal government programs aimed at transforming struggling neighborhoods.
Returned us to another planet
NASA has been on a roll the past few years, and 2018 was no different. The agency’s InSight lander touched down on the surface of the planet Mars on November 26 after a six month journey through space.
Earthlings have already seen the lander’s first selfie and watched the first instrument be placed onto the Red Planet’s surface. Most inspiring, NASA’s InSight lander also let us hear the sound of wind blowing on another planet for the very first time.
Header photo credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, freelance writer, and speaker based in San Francisco. She helps organizations, foundations, and companies with a conscience engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.