New digital strategy will guide mobile, web initiatives

The Office of Management and Budget has finally released its long-awaited digital strategy that will guide how agencies move forward to deliver services and information in a more mobile-friendly way.

Released May 23, the “Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People" strategy focuses on three objectives:

  • Enable citizens and the growing mobile workforce to access high-quality digital government information and services anywhere, anytime, on any device.
  • Put into operation an information-centric model for interoperability and openness to deliver better government digital services at a lower cost.
  • Update and implement policies to procure and manage devices, applications and data in smart, secure and affordable ways.

Read the full strategy here.

Under a presidential directive, agencies are to implement the requirements of the strategy within 12 months of the memorandum and comply with specific actions detailed in it. Agencies also have to create web pages where they report on progress in meeting strategy objectives.

Speaking at the May 23 Tech Crunch’s Disrupt NY 2012 conference in New York City, Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel said the administration will issue no new .gov domain names starting immediately.

“We’re going to stop the proliferation of ‘.govs,’” he said. If an agency needs a new domain for health or safety reasons, the Office of Management and Budget will have “a very laborious process” to win approval for a new domain. 

“We’re going to take an ‘outside-looking-in’ perspective, instead of an ‘inside-out’ perspective and drive to new solutions,” VanRoekel said.

In accordance with the newly launched strategy, agencies have to convert two priority citizen services to a mobile platform in the next year, VanRoekel said.

“That’s going to light the fire that will expand broadly,” he said.

Agencies also have convert two back-end systems to application programming interfaces, or APIs.

The administration is launching a Digital Innovation Center as well.

The administration intends to work with the private sector, and “ask from the bottom of our hearts for your help, because we need it,” CTO Todd Park said during the same forum with VanRoekel.

“Basically, what we’re looking is for is bad-ass innovators ... to come into government for focused, six- to 12-month tours of duty to partner with our best innovators on game-changing projects,” Park said in unexpectedly salty language.

As the private and public sectors’ innovators come together, Park wants to work in a lean startup mode to get results in these projects within six months. It’s called the Presidential Innovation Fellows program.

“We are here at Tech Crunch Disrupt, looking for a few good women and men to come serve their country to code, design, create and kick [butt] for America,” he said.

Park and VanRoekel announced five projects, dubbed MyGov, they plan to tackle in this lean startup mode.

The first project is to make government easier to interact with. Officials want a streamlined system, built with the citizen in mind, that centralizes similar websites so people don’t have to go numerous sites to file paperwork. Park said people have to go to 14 different websites to file their federal student aid paperwork.

“What the Fargo’s up with that?” he said.

The second project is the 20 Percent Campaign. The U.S. Agency for International Development is working to pay foreign nationals, such as the Afghan police force, electronically, instead of with cash. Cash paychecks can lead to waste, fraud and abuse, Park said.

The third project is RFPEZ.

“If you are a startup who has ever tried to sell to the federal government, you know it’s a colossal pain,” Park said. Most companies don’t even try.

An RFP is a request for proposal, in which an agency releases a statement describing what it intends to buy. Companies then can draw up their bids on how they can provide the services to meet those requirements.

Park said the RFPEZ can help the U.S. government and the small IT companies meet each other.

The fourth project is the Blue Button for America, modeled on the Blue Button program already underway at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Blue Button allows veterans and their families to download data about their health records. Park wants to clone that program across the country and also stimulate entrepreneurs to build tools so patients can upload their own data into that technology so they can better manage their own health.

The final project is open data initiatives. The idea is to liberate brand-new public data in various areas, such as education and energy, and make it machine readable. Finally the government wants to let entrepreneurs have access to the data “as raw material to create magic,” Park said.

Officials want to launch several initiatives with this data, such as a safety data initiative. They want to bring together in a number of innovators to brainstorm in eight hours on how they might use that data. Then they would have their develop prototypes of apps in 90 days.

Those successful app or programs would be displayed at a White House “Data-Palooza,” Park said.


About the Authors

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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