Update on Recovery.Gov

Recovery.gov is one of the first deliverables of the massive funding package better known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Mandated by ARRA, the site’s mission is to track all the funding distributed under the recovery legislation in order to promote transparency. USACM has argued that one of the most important things the government could do to promote transparency is to allow for users to download complete copies of publicly available data. This would promote the reuse of information and allow for much greater citizen participation and collaboration.

Recovery.gov is still in its infancy, but it is unclear whether the website will allow users to download complete copies of machine readable data published on the site. The following is from the site’s FAQ section:

Q: Is the spending data on recovery.gov available in a format (like XML) that developers can use to create mashups and gadgets?
A: Not at this time. But, as new systems are developed to capture the allocations and expenditures under the Act, we plan to make that data available in exportable form. (Back to Top)

We are glad to see this mentioned, but the answer doesn’t give useful details such as timelines and whether complete data sets will be available. To help clarify these issues USACM recently sent two letters (one to the Administration and one to Congress) with the following follow-up questions:

  1. What is the timeline for developing the systems that will capture the data required by the act?
  2. How long after these systems are deployed will the data be made available in machine-readable form?
  3. Will users be able to download all the data made available on this site, or will only part of it be available for download?
  4. What are the data elements that will be made available through Recovery.gov either through an Application Programming Interface or other mechanism?

As one USACM member put it, question number three is really the $300 billion question (which is the approximate size of the overall discretionary spending under ARRA).

We will post the Administration’s response on the weblog.

Homeland Security Secretary Puts REAL ID on Back Burner

The new Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, indicated on Friday that there were many flaws and problems with the REAL ID law, which is intended to provide for more secure forms of identification. USACM submitted comments back in 2007 outlining our concerns with the program, which would not be as secure or reliable as desired or needed. Several states expressed their objections to REAL ID through legislation, including the State of Arizona and its then-Governor, Janet Napolitano. So the new perspective on REAL ID is not completely unexpected.

Secretary Napolitano is part of a working group coordinated by the National Governors Association to examine possible legislative and/or regulatory changes to REAL ID. Given the privacy and security concerns, as well as the steep price tag states will face under the current program, the status quo with REAL ID seems unlikely. Some states are working on forms of an enhanced drivers license (Washington state has started issuing them) geared toward frequent border crossers, but it’s unclear whether they would be cheaper, more secure, or provide better privacy than REAL ID.

Hill Tech Happenings, Week of March 30

March 31

The Research and Science Education Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee will markup pending legislation, including the STEM Education Coordination Act of 2009.
2 p.m., 2318 Rayburn Building

April 1

The House Science and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Act of 2009.
10 a.m., 2318 Rayburn Building

Internet Privacy Bill Possible in this Congress

The Bits blog at The New York Times recently ran an interview with Representative Rick Boucher (D-VA) the new Chair of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. While telecommunications issues will be a big concern for Rep. Boucher, it appears that Internet privacy, a concern of his predecessor, Rep. Markey of Massachusetts, will see action during this Congress. From the interview:

“Internet users should be able to know what information is collected about them and have the opportunity to opt out,” he said.

Rep. Boucher is working with the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns, on a bill that could standardize opt-out capacity and data collection disclosure for web sites. Additionally, Rep. Boucher is interested in requiring websites to obtain permission from users for the website before using their information in certain practices – known as opt-in. Again from the article:

“Mr. Boucher wants sites to get explicit permission from users — an “opt in” — if they are going to share information with other companies.”

In other words, if a website was to institute deep packet inspection or other data collection practices and sell that information, they must get the explicit permission of the users they collect information from.

While this is an encouraging development, the Energy and Commerce Committee has crafted privacy bills before that have languished in legislative limbo. With a new committee chair, Congressman Waxman, this might change. We will monitor action on this potential bill as it develops. Do read the Bits blog entry for more details on Rep. Boucher’s plans for internet privacy.

Policy Highlights from Communications of the ACM – March 2009 (Vol. 52, No. 3)

This post will be the first in a monthly series to highlight policy-relevant articles in ACM’s flagship publication, Communications of the ACM (CACM). There is a new website for CACM, http://cacm.acm.org, where you can access material in CACM, as well as news, opinion and blogs on computing compiled by ACM staff.

Much of the material in CACM is considered premium content. You will need to be a member of ACM or a subscriber to CACM in order to access this material online.

Items in the March issue that address issues relevant to public policy:
Continue reading “Policy Highlights from Communications of the ACM – March 2009 (Vol. 52, No. 3)”

Educating NITRD

As far as obscure government acronyms go, NITRD is a pretty good one. It stands for the National Information Technology Research and Development program. This program cuts across numerous federal agencies to carry out and coordinate investments in IT R&D. In 2007, the President’s Council of Advisory on Science and Technology (PCAST … another doozy of an acronym) issued a report making recommendations for some reforms of the NITRD program. One interesting issue it touched on is the need to improve computing education and strengthen the IT workforce pipeline. With Congress now using this report as basis to look at what changes it would make to the program, ACM joined with the Computing Research Association and National Center for Women and Information Technology in a letter outlining ideas of how NITRD could be improved to address computer science education issues, particularly at the K-12 level.
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ACM Turing Award Goes to Creator of Influential Innovations in Computer Software Design

MIT’s Liskov, First U.S. Woman Ph.D. in Computer Science, Pioneered the Standard for Modern Programming Language and Software Reliability

ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, has named Barbara Liskov of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) the winner of the 2008 ACM A.M. Turing Award. The award cites Liskov for her foundational innovations to designing and building the pervasive computer system designs that power daily life. Her achievements in programming language design have made software more reliable and easier to maintain. They are now the basis of every important programming language since 1975, including Ada, C++, Java, and C#. The Turing Award, widely considered the “Nobel Prize in Computing”, is named for the British mathematician Alan M. Turing. The award carries a US$250,000 prize, with financial support provided by Intel Corporation and Google Inc.

The first U.S. woman to be awarded a Ph.D. from a computer science department (in 1968 from Stanford University), Liskov revolutionized the programming field with groundbreaking research that underpins virtually every modern computer application for both consumers and businesses. Her contributions have led to fundamental changes in building the computer software programs that form the infrastructure of our information-based society. Her legacy has made software systems more accessible, reliable, and secure 24/7.

Professor Dame Wendy Hall, ACM’s President, said Liskov has played a distinguished role in the evolution of computer science and engineering to solve real problems. “Her elegant solutions have enriched the research community, but they have also had a practical effect as well,” said Dame Wendy. “They have led to the design and construction of real products that are more reliable than were believed practical not long ago. In addition to her design features, she focused on engineering innovations that changed the way people thought about programming languages and building complex software. These accomplishments were instrumental in moving concepts out of academia and into the real world.”

Andrew Chien, Vice President in the Corporate Technology Group and Director of Research of Intel Corporation said that “Barbara Liskov’s work consistently reflects an extraordinary combination of rigorous problem formulation and sound mathematics; a potent combination she used to create lasting solutions that are the foundations of modern software systems.” He added, “It was my pleasure to learn from Professor Liskov as an MIT graduate student, and it is a continuing pleasure to admire her growing impact.”

“Google is delighted to help recognize Professor Liskov for her research contributions in the areas of data abstraction, modular architectures, and distributed computing fundamentals,” said Alfred Spector, Vice President of Research and Special Initiatives at Google Inc. “We are proud to be a sponsor of the ACM Turing Award to recognize and encourage the research that is essential not only to computer science, but to all the fields that depend on its continued advancement.”

Advances in Software Design

Liskov’s most significant impact stems from her influential contributions to the use of data abstraction, a valuable method for organizing complex programs. She was a leader in demonstrating how data abstraction could be used to make software easier to construct, modify, and maintain. Many of these ideas were derived from her experience at MIT in building the VENUS operating system, a small timesharing system that dramatically lowers the cost of providing computing and makes it more interactive.

In another exceptional contribution, Liskov designed the CLU programming language, an object-oriented language incorporating “clusters” to provide coherent, systematic handling of abstract data types, which are comprised of a set of data and the set of operations that can be performed on the data. She and her colleagues at MIT subsequently developed efficient CLU compiler implementations on several different machines, an important step in demonstrating the practicality of her ideas. Data abstraction is now a generally accepted fundamental method of software engineering that focuses on data rather than processes, often identified as “modular” or “object-oriented” programming.

Building on CLU concepts, Liskov followed with Argus, a distributed programming language. Its novel features led to further developments in distributed system design that could scale to systems connected by a network. This achievement laid the groundwork for modern search engines, which are used by thousands of programmers and hundreds of millions of users every day, and face the challenges of concurrent operation, failure, and continually growing scale.

Her most recent research focuses on techniques that enable a system to continue operating properly in the event of the failure of some of its components. Her work on practical Byzantine fault tolerance demonstrated that there were more efficient ways of dealing with arbitrary (Byzantine) failures than had been previously known. Her insights have helped build robust, fault-tolerant distributed systems that are resistant to errors and hacking. This research is likely to change the way distributed system designers think about providing reliable service on today’s modern, vulnerable Internet.


Barbara Liskov heads the Programming Methodology Group in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, where she has conducted research and has been a professor since 1972. In 2008, she was named an Institute Professor, the highest honor awarded to an MIT faculty member.

A member of the National Academy of Engineering, she is a Fellow of ACM and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She received the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award in 1996, and in 2002, she was named by Discover magazine as one of the 50 most important women in science. She received the IEEE John von Neumann medal in 2004. In 2005, she was awarded the title of ETH Honorary Doctor by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH). In 2008, she received the ACM SIGPLAN Programming Languages Achievement Award.

The author of numerous publications, she wrote three books, including “Abstraction and Specification in Program Development” with John Guttag, which has educated generations of students in how to write good software. Liskov served as an associate editor for ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems (TOPLAS) and is a member of the ACM Special Interest Groups on Programming Languages (SIGPLAN), Operating Systems (SIGOPS), and Management of Databases (SIGMOD).

Liskov has also served on the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Advisory Committee of the National Science Foundation as well as the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) of the National Research Council. Before joining MIT, she was a Member of Technical Staff at The Mitre Corporation. A graduate of the University of California Berkeley with a BA in mathematics, Liskov earned a Ph.D. at Stanford University, where she was a graduate research assistant in Artificial Intelligence.

ACM will present the Turing Award at its ACM Awards Banquet on June 27, in San Diego, CA.

About the ACM A.M. Turing Award

The A.M. Turing Award was named for Alan M. Turing, the British mathematician who articulated the mathematical foundation and limits of computing, and who was a key contributor to the Allied cryptanalysis of the German Enigma cipher during World War II. Since its inception in 1966, the Turing Award has honored the computer scientists and engineers who created the systems and underlying theoretical foundations that have propelled the information technology industry. For additional information, click on http://www.acm.org/awards/taward.html

ACM Washington Update, Vol. 13.2 (March 8, 2009)


[1] Newsletter Highlights
[2] USACM Outlines Technical Principles for Open Government
[3] USACM Hails Boosts in Research Funding
[4] NIST Presents New Research on Voting Systems
[5] New Legislation Proposes Increase in Data Retention
[6] E-Verify Rule Delayed
[7] Congress Seeks Privacy Rights For In Flight Transportation
[8] About USACM

[An archive of all previous editions of Washington Update is available at
Continue reading “ACM Washington Update, Vol. 13.2 (March 8, 2009)”