Code for America is a nonprofit organization that works to develop digital and technological solutions for the expansion and more efficient delivery of federal, state, and local government benefits and services.
Background and Founder
Code for America was founded by Jennifer Pahlka, who served as the deputy chief technology officer in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Obama administration.  There, Pahlka founded the United States Digital Service, which recruits software engineers and other technology industry professionals for six-month to two-year “tours,” working with federal government agencies to upgrade digital services and technologies.  Pahlka was among the trio “of high-powered tech and telecom advisers” who developed technology policy proposals for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election.  She also sits on the advisory board of Civic Hall Labs, a left-leaning nonprofit incubator. 
Code for America employs software engineers and technology experts and contracts with state and local governments to develop apps and technology solutions for government use, describing itself as the “Peace Corps for Geeks.”  It seeks to encourage “delivery-driven government,” which it defines as both improving “the delivery of government services using modern technology and best practices” as well as “learn[ing] to drive policy and operations around delivery and users.” 
Pahlka has said that the organization was founded to bridge the “big disjuncture between what we are served up as consumers and what we are served up as citizens,” in terms of digital connectivity and customer service.  Elsewhere, she has noted that when citizens are engaged with government by technology, their support for higher taxes to pay for government services increases, and that the group’s goal is to increase engagement with government and to “make bureaucracy sexy.” 
Code for America has three focus areas: criminal justice, improving the delivery of government benefits, and workforce development.
In its criminal justice portfolio, the group has developed the “Clear My Record” app, which algorithmically scans court records and identifies persons who are eligible to have criminal convictions vacated. In Los Angeles, district attorneys used Clear My Record to vacate more than 66,000 marijuana possession convictions.  Fellows also partnered with probation offices in Salt Lake City to build an app that permitted officers to communicate with supervisees by text message, permitting more daily contact between officers and their charges. 
In California, the group developed “GetCalFresh,” an app that permits people to apply for food stamps on smart phones and receive text messages and push notifications about essential steps in the application process. The app cut the average food stamps application time from 45 to eight minutes.  The app is now in use in almost all California counties.  Code for America also developed the “Get Your Refund” app, which assists eligible tax filers in accessing the Earned Income Tax Credit. 
Code for America is currently seeking state partners for projects relating to workforce development and job training. 
Code for America has also helped to develop “civic feedback” apps that allow citizens to give city planners and officials instant comment on issues of concern. In Philadelphia, Code for America helped to develop “Textizen,” an app advertised on bus shelters and inside public transit that permits people to answer questions posed by city planners, such as how to improve transit systems or how people use recreation centers. 
In preparation for the 2020 Census, Code for America partnered with several other groups to develop a “digital best practices” guide for cities and counties seeking guidance on how to support the Census Bureau in making its count. 
Code for America has received $1 million+ grants from a number of philanthropic and corporate funders, including Arnold Ventures LLC (which receives funding from the Arnold Foundation), Google, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Skoll Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It has also received substantial support from the Ford Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the California Wellness Foundation.