New algorithms to score candidates for lifesaving organ donations

COVID-19 has been in the spotlight not only in the news, but also in how technologies are being developed to evaluate and control the spread of the virus. For example, various state guidelines outline how ventilators, personal protective equipment, and COVID-19 vaccines should be prioritized in hospitals, ambulances, and communities, respectively. But while the pandemic […]

School districts use machine learning to identify high school drop-out risk

On-time graduation is an important metric for public high schools across the United States. Large “graduation gaps” point to the inequities and shortcomings of the American education system, and federal law requires states and districts to report high school graduation rates and intervene in schools with low rates. Improving drop-out rates is difficult, however, as […]

Algorithmic pretrial risk assessment may just be more common than you think

Californians recently voted to reject Proposition 25, which sought to replace cash bail throughout the state with algorithmic risk assessments. But, like it or not, government agencies are already moving forward with algorithmic pretrial reform efforts. For example, the Los Angeles Superior Court piloted a program in March 2020 that utilizes a tool to calculate […]

Government agencies, big and small, are increasingly adopting controversial algorithms for hiring

As with private companies and nonprofit organizations, government agencies—both big and small—are adopting automation in Human Resources (HR) decision-making processes. For example, federal and local government agencies use algorithms to handle leave requests, issue certifications, and run background investigations. Algorithms, however, don’t eliminate discrimination and other inequities in hiring processes; rather, they can even exacerbate […]

With climate-related floods on the rise, FEMA is updating an algorithm that impacts 96% of flood insurance in the U.S.

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has set insurance rates in the same way since the 1970s. Over the last fifty years, however, the program has faced mounting financial issues and criticism from policymakers, fiscal conservatives, environmentalists and other stakeholders. In response, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the department that manages the NFIP, recently […]

Government COVID-19 algorithms: multiple formats, approaches and challenges

Many government agencies, state and federal, have deployed a variety of algorithms to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Given that these automated systems can take a myriad of forms, investigating them can also require a variety of approaches. In this way, COVID-related algorithms show how challenging reporting on automated decision-making systems can be: just as government […]

Facing the threat of budget cuts, Energy Star needs updates to continue saving money

Energy Star is a government program that helps consumers avoid $30 billion in energy costs every year. But the program is constantly threatened by administrative pressures and the need to be updated. Energy Star is an example of how the success and failure of an algorithm is not only dependent on its internal design or […]

Civil rights groups concerned about biases in recidivism reduction algorithm

An algorithm that was launched in June by the U.S. Department of Justice to predict the likelihood of recidivism for federal inmates is being criticized by civil rights activists of possible gender and racial bias. The Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs (PATTERN) algorithm is part of the First Step Act, a criminal […]

Nursing Home Compare: making sense of a crucial tool for the future

The Five-Star Quality Rating System is a convenient and widely used tool created by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to help people find good nursing homes, but it can be a subject of controversy when it comes to specific metrics that it uses.  In 1998, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services […]

Could CMS’ Fraud Prevention System be unfair?

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) uses the Fraud Prevention System (FPS) to detect improper Medicare payments by processing millions of fee-for-service claims every day. But the focus on monetary return might cause the system to focus on some fraudulent healthcare providers in lieu of others. FPS analyzes data related to Medicare fee-for-service […]