The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration paid over $200,000 for mobile versions of a “Heat Safety Tool” app that doesn’t even work, according to an Android developer who filed a Freedom of Information Request to obtain the cost of the app.
Rich Jones, the 23-year-old, Boston-based Android app developer behind Gun.io, a new site that seeks to match freelance app developers with solicitations, described how he stumbled upon the costly mistake in a post on the Gun.io blog Monday.
Jones wrote that he found the app available for free download in the Android Market, noting the app description says it is designed to measure the heat index of a particular workplace and display corresponding OSHA guidance on what steps employees should take to remain safe.
According to OSHA’s description, the app provides “reminders about drinking enough fluids, scheduling rest breaks, planning for and knowing what to do in an emergency, adjusting work operations, gradually building up the workload for new workers, training on heat illness signs and symptoms, and monitoring each other for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.”
The app has received an average 3-out-of-5 star ratings in the Android Market and between 5,000 and 10,000 downloads.
Jones described his reaction to the app as follows: “When I first tried the application, it told me that it was currently 140F in Boston. It is also extremely slow, it looks like butt, and it crashes all the time. It is completely horrible in every way. If I had to reproduce it, I’d say that it would take be about 6 hours at the maximum. At my hourly rate of $100, that’s $600. Now, the quality of the product didn’t surprise me a huge amount - I don’t ever expect very much from the federal government. Still, I was curious about how much we taxpayers payed for the program - and it knocked me off my feet.”
Jones said he filed a Freedom of Information Request with OSHA using MuckRock, a website designed to streamline the process of filing said requests with government agencies. It’s one of many web-based FOIA request templates that have popped up online in recent years.
He received a response several weeks later, postmarked September 27, and posted it online. In it, the U.S. Department of Labor states that the app cost $106,467 for the Android version, $56,000 for the iPhone version and $40,000 for the BlackBerry version, which never came to fruition.
The company responsible for developing the app at said price is Eastern Research Group, a Lexington, Massachusetts-based environmental services company that was bought out by AEA Technology in the U.K. in 2010.
“So, why are we giving so much money to a giant, foreign-owned corporation which doesn’t even know what the hell it’s doing? What would an alternative look like?” Jones asks, before pointing to his own website, Gun.io, which awards contracts to small components of software development, rather than a full suite of apps.
Aside from Gun.io, Jones is something of a rabble rouse in the Android developer community, having formed the Android Developers Union in March to protest Google’s 32 percent share of all Android application sales.
In June, he created CopRecorder, an Android and iPhone app designed to allow citizens to record audio and video of police encounters without the officers’ knowledge and upload them to the Web, which landed him an article in the Atlantic.
TPM has reached out to OSHA and ERG for more information on the apps, and how they respond to Jones’ criticism, and we’ll update when we receive a response.