White House will pick innovators to fast track IT game-changers

The Obama administration is launching a program to bring together private- and public-sector expertise to collaborate on game-changing technologies and deliver “significant business results” within six months.

The fast-track program is part of the broader digital strategy for government released May 23 that envisions a governmentwide architecture for delivering information and services to citizens over any type of device.

The Presidential Innovation Fellowship will pair 15 innovators from business, nonprofits or academia with government employees to work on five inaugural projects. Federal Chief Technology Officer Todd Park said the fellows will be selected over the next few weeks and are expected to begin six months of work in Washington in July. He said the fellows would be paid from existing budgets.

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The initial projects are:
  • MyGov, intended to create an online government presence to improve interaction with citizens.
  • Open Data Initiatives, to make government data easily available to business innovators and consumers.
  • Blue Button for America, to develop applications that will give individuals access to personal health records.
  • RFP-EZ, to create a platform to make it easier for small businesses to navigate the government bureaucracy and help agencies source low-cost, high-impact IT services and products.
  • The 20% Campaign, to enable the government to make electronic payments in foreign aid and development programs.
The MyGov project is expected to wind up by January 2013. The other four projects call for six to 12 months of work in Washington beginning in July.

The fellowship program is part of an effort to move online government services away from siloed agency or program-specific systems to a single platform to deliver information and services “anytime, anywhere, and on any device.” It envisions a data-centric architecture that handles information as objects rather than documents, making it searchable across agencies and systems. Such a platform would make information not only easier to access but also more valuable because it could be easily searched and combined.

The strategy also acknowledges the growing use of mobile devices and the likely development of future nontraditional computing tools that will have to be supported by government systems. An effective government platform would have to be device-agnostic.

The initial projects in the fellowship program are intended to “improve the lives of the American people, saving taxpayer money, and fueling job creation.”

MyGov is intended to reimagine the current 1,200 federal websites, which too often are “organized around the federal bureaucracy rather than the needs of citizens,” and rapidly prototype a streamlined and intuitive system for presenting information and accepting feedback about the needs of citizens. It will require expertise in search engine behavior and content management on large scales, as well as information architecture.

The Open Data Initiatives program is intended to fuel entrepreneurship by making data available, much as weather and climate data made available by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and location data from the Defense Department’s Global Positioning System have. One focus will be the Health Data Initiative launched by the Institute of Medicine and the Health and Human Services Department in 2010.

Blue Button for America will build on programs from HHS and the Veterans Affairs Department to let individuals securely download their own health information in a text file. The program now is available to military personnel, veterans and Medicare beneficiaries, and the project would expand it to all citizens.

RFP-EZ would develop a streamlined process for government to do business with small, high-growth companies that currently might be intimidated by entering the federal market. It initially would leverage the BusinessUSA initiative for small businesses would build a prototype process for sourcing low-cost, high-impact solutions.

The 20% Campaign is named for its goal of getting 20 percent more “bang for our buck” by moving billions of dollars in monthly payments supporting foreign policy programs from cash to electronic delivery. Cash is expensive to handle, inconvenient, and subject to fraud and theft. The U.S. Agency for International Development will lead the initiative to enable payments through mobile devices, smart cards and other electronic channels.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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