GCN LAB IMPRESSIONS

The app to get agencies to start building apps

It’s good to see the president trying to make government more accessible to the people, and doing it in a modern way. The Obama administration’s just-released road map to the future, “Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People,” specifically asks each agency to create at least two apps to help the public make use of a service within the year.

Saying the government has created a labyrinth of information spread across various programs, President Barack Obama said in a statement that “Americans deserve a government that works for them anytime, anywhere, and on any device.”


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Additionally, agencies must provide resources for developers to create new apps, and keep everyone apprised of their progress at a designated URL that will use this format: www.AGENCYNAME.gov/digitalstrategy Those websites need to be live within 90 days, so it won’t be long before you can start checking out your favorites to see what apps various government agencies have in store for us.

One thing I’ll be looking for is whether agencies will be able to create perfectly equal programs across all platforms.

Back in the early days of the Web, when government agencies were just learning to crawl online, we used to do stories at GCN comparing how an agency’s website looked on Internet Explorer compared with Netscape. The differences in some cases were pretty startling.

Now, government will have to make things equal on Apple iOS, Android and BlackBerry, not the easiest task.

But despite what will probably be a few hiccups, I think this initiative is a great idea. Some agencies probably do need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the world of services through apps, and this presidential order should do the trick. It's an app, at least metaphorically, to get them to build apps.

I do wonder how some of the more secretive agencies like the FBI, National Security Agency and CIA will handle this mandate. There are no exceptions written into the plan that we could find. But I suppose recruitment drives, showing the most wanted fugitives, tips for making your home safe against terrorists and things like that would qualify for some of them. And the CIA probably can do something interesting with its World Factbook, which is already a good online resource.

Not everyone is behind the curve, of course. As with people, some agencies tend to be early adopters, and many already provide more than two apps to help the public right now. In July, the GCN Lab plans to review a collection of these citizen-helper apps to see which agencies are already conquering the mobile frontier.

Those trailblazers could be invaluable to those now forced to follow along, but I have little doubt that all of government will eventually get there, and do so sooner rather than later if Obama has anything to say about it (which he does).

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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