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Google Goes to Washington, Gearing Up to Put Its Stamp on Government

Google set up shop in Reston and is pitching the advantages of Google Maps, for instance, to government agencies.
Google set up shop in Reston and is pitching the advantages of Google Maps, for instance, to government agencies.
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Take its new space, a departure from the typical cubicle-filled offices of Northern Virginia. The conference rooms are named after famous Virginia natives, such as Patsy Cline and Lewis and Clark. The room named after Ella Fitzgerald contains a floor-to-ceiling photo of the singer. Nearby are big-screen TVs, supposedly reserved for videoconferencing. Meals are catered daily in the cafeteria. Vint Cerf, referred to as the "Father of the Internet" for his role in developing the network, has an office next to a cluster of Adirondack lawn chairs intended to promote discussion among employees.

Still, some state and federal agencies have become more receptive to Google's pitch, Bradshaw said, with 10 Cabinet agencies and several state and county governments using its tools.

Three months ago, all 38,000 District government employees started using Google-powered e-mail service, watching training videos posted on YouTube and searching through an internal wiki, called DCpedia.

The government also plots the locations of construction projects and broken parking meters, among other things, on Google Maps, so residents can see how many potholes are scheduled to get filled on their street or how many computers a neighborhood school received this year.

And all the work is recorded in Google Docs and Spreadsheets, which can be edited by everyone involved. That way, Vivek Kundra, the District's chief technology officer, can monitor the work flow for every project and hold employees accountable.

Shortly after assuming his new role, Kundra visited a dozen Silicon Valley companies to study their technologies. Google's applications, he thought, would allow various parts of the District's government to talk to each other.

"What I use in my personal life is much more advanced than what I had at work," he said. "Why wouldn't we invest in what all the employees are using at home anyway?"

Google's foray into government business is not only a sign of the company's expansion into other industries, it's also a sign of the changes underway in Washington's technology landscape. New firms are moving in, branching out and making deals, perhaps beginning to blur the line between the robust government contracting world and the consumer-minded firms that continue to take chances and thrive.

Kim Hart will write about Washington's tech scene every other Monday. After a two-year hiatus, the Download column is returning to chronicle the region's ever-evolving tech scene and the people who make it tick. Send tips to

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