Federal CTO calls on agencies to innovate

Agencies have moved forward, often without outside urging, Chopra says

Agencies are vigorously engaged in developing ideas and plans that will lay the groundwork for innovation to help government better engage with citizens, employees and business partners, Aneesh Chopra, federal chief technology officer, told attendees at a conference in Washington, D.C. today.

Many agency officials are enthusiastic about coming up with plans to ingrain more innovation, openness and transparency in their organizations, Chopra said. He praised a dozen agencies for addressing innovation without any urging from federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra or himself.  

White House memo: Public contests can drive innovation

Chopra spoke at a conference called “Beyond SOA and Cloud: Next Generation Information Exchange in High Consequence Environments,” sponsored by the Washington, D.C. Chapter of the Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association, AFCEA.

Chopra said agencies are coming up with plans that focus on innovative platforms, new methods of engaging employees and the private sector, devising new web services for more data sharing and releasing more information to the public.

“I can’t wait until April 7 when you all will comb through what the agencies are doing,” and see a whole range of ideas, he said. 

On April 7, agencies are required by the Obama Administration’s Open Government Directive to develop and publish plans on their Open Government Web pages that will describe how they will improve transparency and integrate public participation and collaboration into their activities.

As a case study, Chopra pointed to the National Health Information Network Direct and NHIN.org. NHIN Direct is a public-private partnership to develop a set of policies, standards and services that enable the Internet to be used for the secure and meaningful exchange of health information to improve health and health care. 

NHIN Direct includes an open, transparent, collaborative process that includes the use of wikis, blogs, open source and open content. The first phase is grounded in real-world implementations due this year, he said.

In the area of cloud computing, a major administration initiative, much emphasis has been placed on improving the procurement of applications through Apps.gov, Chopra noted. But work is going on beyond procurement.

“I am focusing like a hawk on how we can deliver game-changing improvements in the technology and use [of cloud computing] through our research and development enterprise,” he said.

For example, the National Science Foundation has signed research collaborations with Google, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Yahoo around cloud computing. NSF has $15 million in research awards to give to academics to address issues such as security and data portability.

Other noteworthy efforts include the Defense Advance Research Program Agency’s Transformative Apps, a $50 million program to develop applications to support the warfighter, he said.  For example, if a soldier wanted to download a real-time Afghan to English translator, there should be an ecosystem of such translators. Soldiers could then decide which would be of best value, without the complexities of a request for proposal.

The framework that DARPA is proposing is a whole new ecosystem of application development that will enable warfighters to have more choice and control over the resources they need to be productive, Chopra said.

“We’re also focusing on advanced IT ecosystems that can make a difference not just in the long-term but in the short term,” he said. 

An example of this is the Text4Baby program, a free mobile health education service to promote maternal and child health. Through a public-private partnership, 15 wireless carriers have agreed to deliver Text4Baby messages to subscribers at no charge for two years. Women who sign up will receive three free SMS text messages each week, timed to their due date or the baby’s date of birth.

The aim is to cut the infant mortality rate by making sure women get proper pre-natal care.  The government is working with about 150 organizations that have grassroots networks focused on educating women about pre-natal concerns.  A small business in Washington, D.C., acts as a broker bringing together all the parts.  The service is provided at zero cost to the taxpayer, he said.  About 20,000 women signed up in a month.

This is an example of an innovative platform that was set up rapidly, he said.

The administration continues to look for innovation that will have an impact on the entire American economy, Chopra said.

For instance, the administration is seeking public input on Grand Challenges for the 21st Century for Engineering by April 15.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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Reader Comments

Thu, Apr 29, 2010

The focus on innovation is clearly a topic generating a lot of attention; what's not being addressed is the extreme difficulty vendors and consultants face when attempting to bring innovative solutions to the attention of the government! It's impossible.

Mon, Mar 22, 2010 Brand Niemann

The Federal SOA Community of Practice innovated with an Open Source ESB in the Federal SOA Jump Start Kit (see http://semanticommunity.wik.is/Federal_SOA_Community_of_Practice/Conferences/3_2007_May_1-2), the FAA used this, and they present how to make service orientation pay off on May 6th - see http://federalsoa.wik.is/

Thu, Mar 18, 2010 martin isenburg livermore, ca

great article. here is my implementation of a similar idea: http://downtownfarm.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/chickens-lasers-the-avatar-feeling/ downtownfarm combines three passions of mine into one operation and uses cutting edge military-grade light-scanning technology (popularized by Radiohead’s innovative “House of Cards” video—see below) to broadcast our activities to ipods, ipads, iphones, and facebooks around the globe: * enable children to make informed decisions by teaching them about factory food production and by exposing them to the joys of urban farming * develop & implement cutting-edge remote sensing laser technology (e.g. LIDAR, multi-camera systems, infrared, RADAR, …) * familiarize children with today’s multimedia, networking & GIS technologies Urban farming puts that little “Na-vi” in our live that we are all yearning for since we saw Avatar. downtownfarm shows how a trip to your local farm store and your neighborhood nursery can create a slice of Pandora in your frontyard. The resulting “happy feed” will motivate brilliant and creative minds across the globe to drive cutting-edge laser technology forward and showcase it at downtownfarm. Geeks (like me @ livermorelasso) will work incredibly hard to enable 3 – 16 year old children to pick up their favorite “Pumpkin” or “Omelet”, hold it towards the LIDAR “laser camera”, and present it to the world in streaming real-time 3D. Constantly pushing for higher-resolution, fuller color, higher frame-rate, we will put in all-nighters to make kids hearts glow (and not just for meeting a deadline or fulfilling some contract). This will drive the technology forward and every field (e.g. intelligence, land planning, surveying, security, education …) will benefit as a nice “side-effect”. And farmville will look so last century. But hey … I don’t want to alienate the farmville and iphone app developpers. Help me create the downtownfarm app. I need your brilliance and foresight. You & Cafe Fanny & James Cameron & Ocracoke Coffee & Michelle Obama & Weaver Street Market & Michael Pollan & Caffee Driade & Upton Sinclair & Great Harvest Bread & Eric Schlosser & Berkeley Bowl & Michael Krasny & Cafe Gratitude & Barbara Ehrenreich & Mama Dip’s & the people that I have met and continue to meet … you are my heroes. You paved the way for downtownfarm. These are all your ideas … all I did was to combine them in the most obvious way and to find a good location for them: The only old farm house in the very core of downtown Livermore. And now I really need your help.

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