Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My letter to President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

I have a proposal to save the government, and therefore the US taxpayer (me), billions of dollars per year in both real, physical infrastructure spending as well as billions more related to the economic burden of congestion. Here’s how:

In the recent “Autopocalypse” unfolding, the US taxpayer has pumped over $15 billion into General Motors. While I am no bankruptcy expert, if GM seeks protection, as seems likely, I believe the taxpayer will see minimal, if any, return on that investment. GM is sitting on a HUGE asset to the public good, namely Onstar. GM has shipped over 16 million vehicles equipped with Onstar and is likely to ship 3 million more this year alone.

Onstar can collect data relating to average speed, weather conditions, incident reports and many other useful bits of data that today the federal and state governments spend billions to duplicate and disseminate to the public (road sensors, traffic monitors, cameras etc.). Due to cost, this information is only captured for the major metropolitan areas and is often an aggregation of sensors, 911 incident data, etc. By the time the DOT, and public sector aggregators transmit that data, it is often out of date. With over 16 million Onstar “probes” on the road today much of this information could be gathered in real-time without added infrastructure costs.

My proposal is to negotiate a non-exclusive right for the government to gain access to information from Onstar, in an obfuscated way, relating to speed, weather (wind shield wipers on / off, etc.), crash, etc. That information could replace physical infrastructure spend on street sensors, cameras, etc. Additionally, it could provide more current real-time traffic, weather, etc. data that both the public and the private sectors could aggregate (like they do now from the DOT) and disseminate to consumers in a way that would reduce commute times and accidents.

The NHTSA estimated “The 2000 economic costs of U.S. highway crashes, excluding the cost imposed on society by travel delays and wage-risk premiums, was $205 billion (Blincoe et al., 2002)”. Having data from Onstar could help reduce accidents, and therefore costs, related to traffic, but perhaps more importantly direct costs related to congestion. Some studies suggest congestion costs as much as $222 billion dollars / year (see:

I think licensing this specific content would not decrease viability of GM, Onstar or any company trying to purchase Onstar assets as Onstar does not currently leverage this data.

So in summary, before allowing GM to sell off Onstar assets or loose this critical opportunity to leverage the money the taxpayer has already spent with GM, please consider my proposal:

· License GM / Onstar sensor / “probe” data (current and future) in an obfuscated way (to protect privacy concerns) – You don’t have to have the IT in place to use it yet, just negotiate the license!
· Save physical infrastructure costs related to congestion information for the taxpayer
· Gain more real-time information related to road conditions, congestion, incidents, weather than ever before
· Leverage the investment made in GM and Onstar by the US taxpayer
· Act quickly before this valuable asset is removed from access.

Thank you for your consideration.

Warmest Regards,

Andrew Poliak

P.S. I think this is a political “freebee” as I can’t think of a constituent you would be disappointing.


  1. Hey my first chain letter response from my Senator (Senator Murray):

    "Dear Mr. Poliak:

    Thank you for writing me regarding government assistance for the domestic automobile industry. I appreciate hearing from you about this important issue.

    As you know, in 2008 General Motors (GM), Ford, and Chrysler asked the federal government to provide loans to help them through the current credit crisis. Company executives testified before Congress explaining their financial situation and plans to restore viability if they were to receive the loans. Executives contended that if they did not receive federal assistance in the future, one or all of them may have to file for bankruptcy, an event which could lead to millions of job losses and have a devastating effect on the entire economy. On December 19, 2008, the Bush Administration provided $17.4 billion in assistance to General Motors and Chrysler using money that had been authorized under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), and imposed a deadline of March 31, 2009 for the companies to present viable restructuring plans to the government.

    After the restructuring plans submitted by the companies were deemed insufficient by the Obama Administration at the end of March, both Chrysler on April 30, and General Motors on June 1, created more comprehensive restructuring plans and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The Obama Administration is extending further government assistance to both automakers during the bankruptcy process. Chrysler will receive an additional $8 billion in government assistance during the bankruptcy process. General Motors is receiving a total of $50 billion in new government assistance to navigate bankruptcy proceedings, which will provide the United States with a 60% stake in the company. This additional financing will provide adequate room to restructure by preventing these companies from completely halting business and production during bankruptcy.

    This is a difficult time for American automakers, however restructuring under bankruptcy presents the best opportunity for both companies to become viable and stronger well into the future. I do not like that that additional taxpayer assistance is needed to help these companies through this process, and I believe that the government should not be involved in the day-to-day operations and decision making of these companies. However, I do feel strongly that preserving this key segment of the American manufacturing base and the jobs and family businesses it supports is necessary to help preserve the economic strength of our economy. I am hopeful that this process will lead to GM and Chrysler emerging from bankruptcy in a stronger financial position and better prepared to compete in the United States and around the world.

    Lifting our economy out of this recession and helping Americans get back to work are my top priorities. I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues and the Obama Administration to address this economic crisis and make prudent investments to get our economy back on stable ground. Be assured I am closely monitoring this issue and will continue to do so as the 111th Congress continues.

    Thank you for sharing your views with me about this important issue, and I will keep your comments in mind. Please do not hesitate to contact me again in the future.

    I hope all is well in Lake Stevens."

    I like the way it is personalized at the end. =)

  2. Oooh another response:

    "Notification of Case Change (All times are GMT-0400)

    Project: NHTSA Hotline Center
    Case: Replacing Congestion Infrastructure with GM/Onstar "Probe" data
    Case Number: 108517

    Date: 06/10/2009 Time: 18:04:41
    Creation Date: 06/10/2009 Creation Time: 14:28:29

    Entered on 06/10/2009 at 18:04:40 EDT (GMT-0400) by BOL:
    Thank you for contacting the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Vehicle Safety Hotline Information Center.

    We appreciate the time you have taken to contact us and value your opinion. Your comments have been forwarded to the appropriate NHTSA personnel.

    However, if you need additional information on our services please feel free to contact us at 1-888-327-4236.

    Thank you, Response Team

    Disclaimer: "This response is for information purposes only and does not constitute an official communication of the U.S. Department of Transportation. For an official response, please write U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1200 New Jersey Ave, SE, West Building, Washington, DC 20590."