The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is strengthening its outreach to small and local tech communities by launching its “Startup Day” program, aimed at making the federal contracting process less daunting to budding businesses. The inaugural Startup Day at agency headquarters in Washington, DC, ended with pitch sessions, modeled after the “Shark Tank” television show, in which companies presented their ideas in front of HHS leaders who had the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback. The agency intends to hold at least a dozen more of these events at other locations over the next two years. Aside from demystifying the federal procurement process, HHS hopes the events will help it tap into more entrepreneurial ideas.
To help break the cycle of addiction that plagues many current and former inmates, in mid-2016, the Rhode Island Department of Corrections became the first state system to expand its medication-assisted treatment program to all inmates with opioid use disorder, through which it provides approved medications such as methadone. Recent research supports a finding that the number of overdose deaths among those recently released from the state's prisons and jails have been reduced due to the program. The program also helps inmates get insured and transition to treatment providers upon their release.
The Los Angeles Police Department has developed and deployed a chatbot to handle the many basic inquiries that come in from potential police recruits. Police recruitment activities can be time-intensive for the Personnel Department's Public Safety Division, which often must field thousands of monthly calls from prospective applicants. “Officer Chip,” in use since last summer, currently fields over 1,000 likely questions, covering topics such as salary, drug testing, and boot camp. The chatbot is also able to improve its answers by reviewing questions it receives, as well as by informing officials about the types and frequency of information most often requested.
Across the country, libraries are stepping in to fill the void left by declining local news coverage. In western South Dakota, 13 area libraries collaborate to help run a news site for a region that has lost several weekly newspapers. The town librarian in Weare, New Hampshire, circulates a weekly paper that publicizes town events and promotes student accomplishments. In Texas, San Antonio's library offers space to an independent video news site, and the Dallas Public Library is partnering with a local newspaper to train high school students in community journalism.
Colorado is one of several states leading the way in changing the standard approach to child support collection. Rather than focusing solely on punitive measures for delinquent parents, such as freezing accounts and suspending driver’s licenses, the state has rebranded its Division of “Child Support Enforcement” to “Child Support Services” and has sought ways to help these parents find jobs, address alcohol and drug addiction, take parenting classes, and be more connected with their children. Other states have been studying the success of the federally funded five-year program, which has yielded an increase in child support payments from parents who received assistance.
Mitchell Elementary School in Philadelphia is experimenting with financial incentives to encourage older students to refrain from fighting. Under the initiative, eighth-grade students will earn $100 each at graduation if their class does not resort to physical altercations during the school year. The school uses a bulletin board to publicize to the students the number of days they have gone without getting into fights, conducts peer-mediation sessions with younger students, and plans to open up a room for students to cool down and practice conflict-resolution techniques. Academic research suggests that financial incentives offered by educators can motivate children to do their homework, read books, and meet other behavior goals; violence appears to be down at the school since the initiative was unveiled.