Why the Commerce Department wants you to experiment with Amazon’s Alexa

An upcoming Commerce Department event at Amazon headquarters in Seattle, Washington will challenge people to connect government data to Amazon’s Alexa.

An upcoming Commerce Department event at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle will challenge people to connect government data to Amazon’s Alexa.

Alexa is a voice-enabled virtual assistant software programmed to respond to certain natural language commands and perform skills, like playing music, setting alarms or telling the news. The Commerce Department thinks the Amazon technology can give some people more digestible access to its troves of data, Justin Antonipillai, counselor to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, wrote in a Medium blog post.

“Our goal is to democratize access to information for citizens by enabling comfortable, familiar mediums for open, easy access,” Antonipillai said in a statement. “While power users and large consulting firms are comfortable getting data via an API, a larger audience simply wants to access our data seamlessly via their consumer devices in both text and voice searches.”

During the two-day event on Oct. 7 and 8, software developers and civic hackers will develop new Alexa skills with technical help from the department’s Commerce Data Service and some supporting bureaus, like the U.S. Census Bureau.


Antonipillai provided possible examples of scenarios that could come out of the challenge’s work, including planning a crop harvest using weather forecasts or a fishing trip using tide and marine conditions, and learning which cities generate the most patents.

To participate, developers must sign up for the event, create free Amazon developer and Amazon Web Services accounts, and download the sample templates.

Samantha Ehlinger

Written by Samantha Ehlinger

Samantha Ehlinger is a technology reporter for FedScoop. Her work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and several McClatchy papers, including Miami Herald and The State. She was a part of a McClatchy investigative team for the “Irradiated” project on nuclear worker conditions, which won a McClatchy President’s Award. She is a graduate of Texas Christian University. Contact Samantha via email at, or follow her on Twitter at @samehlinger. Subscribe to the Daily Scoop for stories like this in your inbox every morning by signing up here:

Latest Podcasts