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This Tool Saves HUD Employees Weeks of Work

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A mapping tool created by the Housing and Urban Development Department has saved employees weeks of tedious reporting work over the past year and could serve as a template for future government data portals.

The Community Assessment Reporting Tool uses geospatial technology to detail how and where HUD is spending its money in a given community, from whole congressional districts down to a single ZIP code. Now approaching its one year anniversary, CART kills two birds with one stone: It increases transparency at HUD while simultaneously cutting employees’ workload by days at a time.

As the head of federal housing policy, HUD is frequently asked by Congress and local officials how it’s investing in communities across the country through block grants, rent and housing assistance packages and other services. Before CART, it took days or even weeks to answer that question.

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Without a central database of agency investments, employees had to contact local offices to gather the information for these reports. Putting together investment snapshots often required days of back-and-forth emails and calls, compiling irregularly formatted data and manually piecing together maps for specific areas, sometimes block by block, said Nelson Bregon, the associate assistant deputy secretary for HUD’s Office of Field Policy and Management.

“[CART] took something that took many business days down to just a few seconds,” Bregon told Nextgov. The tool was built with both citizens and federal employees in mind, and requires no technical background to use, he said. Users can explore agency investments online or download the raw data sets for further analysis.

The public-facing site launched Dec. 16, 2016, after about two and a half years of development, and so far has had been used more than 10,000 times.

Because government data is often spread throughout different offices within an agency or even still on paper, the tediousness gathering up-to-date information is an issue familiar to many government employees. By continuing to flesh out CART and other mapping resources, HUD hopes to streamline workflows of its employees while giving the general public—or congressional lawmakers—easier access to the information they need.

The Trump administration has previously expressed support for open data initiatives and similar programs as part of its overarching goal to make government more efficient. Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Office of American Innovation Chris Liddell highlighted how centralizing and standardizing data could help modernize the government in a speech last month at a data transparency conference.

“One of our greatest challenges is also our greatest opportunity: how to unleash the power of data to create a more efficient and effective government,” Liddell said.

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