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OpenRFPs: Open RFP Data for All 50 States

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Tomorrow at CodeAcross we’ll be launching our first community-based project, OpenRFPs. The goal is to liberate the data inside of every state RFP listing website in the country. We hope you’ll find your own state’s RFP site, and contribute a parser.

The Department of Better Technology’s goal is to improve the way government works by making it easier for small, innovative businesses to provide great technology to government. But those businesses can barely make it through the front door when the RFPs themselves are stored in archaic systems, with sloppy user interfaces and disparate data formats, or locked behind paywalls.

What are a business’s current choices? They can pay for subscription based services that are either shady vendors disguised as officious sounding associations, or have less than stellar user interfaces.

The sum of these experiences? The barrier to entry is so high that the small companies who are great at technology are effectively turned away at the door. The only ones who get through are those that can afford to spend employee time scouring for the right RFPs.

But the harm to business isn’t the big harm. Government contracting becomes an overlooked area by the transparency community, (especially at the state and local level,) because the data isn’t available en-masse unless it’s paid for commercially, which comes with a restrictive usage license.

This data ought to be free. It ought to be more discoverable. And DOBT is willing to spend a few years to fix this.

Think this sounds crazy or too complicated? Back in 2009, while I was Director of Sunlight Labs, people said same thing about the 50 State Project. It was a similar initiative aimed at state legislative data, and after 3 years; hundreds of volunteers; and several Pycons, RubyConfs, Gov2 Summits, and Great American Hackathons; The Sunlight Foundation finished all 50 scrapers and launched Open States.

We’re taking some of the lessons learned from OpenStates and applying them to OpenRFPs, albeit with (what we think are) some improvements. We’ve chosen Javascript as our core language and built an initial structure for contributing to the project. It’s our hope that this weekend at CodeAcross, you’ll help parse your own state or local RFP site and contribute the parser back into OpenRFPs.

The Department of Better Technolgy will be at three of the CodeAcross events this weekend to help out:

The first step in sparking innovation in your state is to make it easy for companies to do business with your state government, and this is a big step in that direction. Hope to see you there!

Clay is the chairman and co-founder of The Department of Better Technology.

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