DOT agencies adding data leadership while simplifying regulations

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The Department of Transportation wants to improve user experience among its agencies by hiring leaders to steer their digital transformation and simplifying regulations — beginning with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

For the first time, DOT is hiring a chief technology officer at FMCSA to help manage the data that keeps the U.S. transportation system safe.

FMCSA ensures commercial motor vehicle drivers pass an annual physical, around 5.5 million each year, and conducts 3.5 million roadside inspections.

“You’ll see an emphasis on digital and really the user experience going forward because our applications increasingly involve knitting together a state and private sector net around the commercial motor vehicle industry,” Daniel Morgan, chief data officer at DOT, told reporters after an AFCEA event Tuesday.

For instance, a new system slated for 2020 will divert drivers who fail random drug testing at work to substance abuse counseling. DOT is also developing a training provider registry for instructors who teach drivers how to operate commercial motor vehicles to ensure a baseline curriculum.

Both are separate websites built one regulation at a time.

“That’s not necessarily the best way to build that user experience,” Morgan said. “So we need somebody to lead that organization.”

But DOT regulations also need to be simplified more broadly on everything from vehicle safety requirements to the proper transportation of hazardous materials, he added. And the department is using natural language processing to do so.

Through a partnership with Amazon Web Services, and using tax increment financing dollars and open-source software from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, DOT developed a regulatory dashboard.

“We try to figure out ways to help our lawyers target where they can spend their energy for the most value,” Morgan said during a panel discussion. “Ultimately we want more people to comply [with regulations].”

DOT’s tool creates statistics for its lawyers by analyzing Federal Register data to generate metrics like sentence length, word count, reading level and Shannon’s Entropy — a measure of how hard it is for autocorrect to figure out the next word in a sentence.

“A score of 8 or 9 is like Shakespearean, and our regulations score more complex than Shakespeare,” Morgan told reporters.

DOT also measures the number of conditions in its regulations — “must” and “shall” — and exceptions — “but,” “notwithstanding” and “except” — which increase complexity. If the department notices “exception drift,” its lawyers can refactor regulations, Morgan said.

Other agencies with industry-focused regulations could use DOT’s tool, though departments with broader regulations like Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Labor may have a more difficult time, he added.

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AFCEA, AFCEA Bethesda, Amazon Web Services (AWS), chief data officer (CDO), Chief Technology Officer, Daniel Morgan, Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Federal Register, natural language processing