Tell the Government What Apps to Make

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The government may struggle to create jobs, but it has proved to be masterful at creating smartphone apps. Now it’s looking for suggestions from you.

Until Sept. 15, USA.gov is asking readers to recommend ideas for mobile apps that the various government agencies should produce. To give readers an idea of what’s possible, the site includes a link to the dozens of apps that the government has already released, which range from incredibly useful apps like those that locate alternative fuel sources and notify users of recall alerts to the just plain bizarre, like an app from the Smithsonian Institute that shows the user what he or she would look like as a Neanderthal.

Unfortunately, there have been fewer than 100 suggestions to date, which seems low considering this is one great instance where Uncle Sam will listen to you and can quickly do something that may make your everyday life a little bit easier. So MainStreet has a few ideas of our own for apps that the government could create, which we hope will get the conversation started. If you like any of these or have an idea of your own, let us know in the comments and don’t forget to leave your idea here to be officially considered.

Food Stamp Map

Food stamp use has exploded since the recession and many Americans are likely struggling to figure out how the program works and how to make the most of it. This is one area where a smartphone app could really come in handy. The government could create a map of all supermarkets and shopping centers that accept food stamps and notify users of the one nearest them. In fact, they could go further still and partner with those stores to promote their best deals so that consumers get the biggest bang for their government-subsidized buck.

Seized Property Directory

The government seizes countless pieces of property every year ranging from boats and cars to jewelry and toys, yet many have difficulty figuring out where to purchase these discounted items and which sellers they should trust. Fortunately, the U.S. Marshals Service has an in-depth directory of certified sellers and available assets, so why not turn that into a mobile app that maps out the nearest sales and notifies the user of when an auction is taking place in their area?

Building Your Food Pyramid

The U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled a nice redesign of the food pyramid earlier this year, and now it’s time for them to put it to good use. The government agency currently has an app called My Food-a-Pedia that tells you calorie information for different foods and identifies which of the five food groups each falls into, but the USDA could take this one step farther by creating an app that helps the user build a meal or set of meals that satisfies each section of the full food pyramid. Perhaps the user could enter in the main course they want to eat, or a list of two or three products in their pantry, and the app could identify the best foods to pair it with in order to have a truly balanced diet.

Product Scanner

The government’s current recall app has an excellent feature that allows users to scan a barcode to see if that product has been recalled, but we would like to see this feature expanded into its own app that factors in updates and information from each of the agencies that regulate consumer products. That way, the user could open up the app and scan the barcode of a food product to see it had been recalled or scan a product that claims to be environmentally friendly to see if the Federal Trade Commission has more information about it or simply type in the name of the company you’re shopping at to see how it’s rated by the Better Business Bureau. By incorporating information from multiple agencies into one app, the government could create a powerful directory for shoppers.

Talking Point Translator

OK, this one is more of a joke, but it would be nice if someone in government put out a kind of encyclopedia that explained common talking points cited in debates and headlines. So, for example, when a candidate uses a phrase like “cap and trade,” the user could find a brief definition of the phrase, perhaps accompanied by a short summary of where Republicans and Democrats stand on the issue.

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