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US CTO Looks to Scale Agile Thinking and Open Data to Improve Citizen-Centric Government

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In the 21st century, federal government must go mobile, putting government services and information at the fingertips of citizens, said United States Chief Technology Officer Todd Park in a wide-ranging interview this week: "That's the first digital government result, outcome, and objective that's desired."

To achieve that vision, Park and U.S. Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel are working together to improve how government shares data, architects new digital services and collaborates across agencies to reduce costs and increase productivity through smarter use of information technology.

Park, who President Obama chose to be the second CTO of the United States in March, has been (relatively) quiet over the course of his first two months on the job.

Last Wednesday, that changed. Park announced a new Presidential Innovation Fellows Program, at TechCrunch's Disrupt conference in New York City, in concert with VanRoekel's new digital government strategy. Both men then spoke (more formally) about digital government at the headquarters of the Interior Department in Washington, D.C. On Friday, Park presented the U.S. CTO's team's agenda to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

"The way I think about the strategy is that you're really talking about three elements," Park said in our interview. "First, it's going mobile, putting government services at the literal fingertips of the people in the same way that basically every other industry and sector has done. Second, it's being smarter about how we procure technology as we move government in this direction. Finally, it's liberating data. In the end, it's the idea of 'government as a platform.'"

In the video below, Park explains how "open data" specifically relates to the things that Americans care about, from access to health care to reducing energy bills to giving kids more educational opportunities, and job creation. In his view, open data is about much more than the consumer-facing apps that are created from it, although the creation of health care apps does matter for entrepreneurs and citizens.

A new iteration for White House fellowship

The idea of the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program, Park said, is to bring in brilliant people from outside government to work with talented innovators inside the government on agile teams that work together within a six-month time frame to deliver results.

The idea of such fellow is not novel -- President Lyndon Johnson established the prestigious White House Fellows program in 1964. President Jimmy Carter created the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) in 1997. President George W. Bush amended the PMF program with an executive order in 2003.

The highly competitive White House Fellows program offers "exceptional young men and women first-hand experience working at the highest levels of the Federal government. Selected individuals typically spend a year working as a full-time, paid Fellow to senior White House Staff, Cabinet Secretaries and other top-ranking government officials." The program has attracted extraordinary young Americans, year after year, for decades. The 14 individuals in the current 2011-12 class of Presidential Fellows, for instance, are accomplished physicians, lawyers, academics and distinguished members of the military. Those diverse faces offer a compelling snapshot of some of the best talent the United States has to offer.

The fellowships are basically scaling up the idea of "entrepreneurs in residence," Park said. "It's a portfolio of five projects that, on top of the digital government strategy, will advance the implementation of it in a variety of ways."

The biggest challenge to bringing the five programs that the U.S. CTO has proposed to successful completion is getting talented men and women to join up to join his team and implement them in a short time frame. At week's end, there was good reason for optimism, with respect to the candidate pool: Park shared vie email that "within 24 hours of TechCrunch Disrupt, 600 people had already registered via Whitehouse.gov to apply to be a Presidential Innovation Fellow, and another several hundred people had expressed interest in following and engaging in the five projects in some other capacity."

The White House Innovation Fellows will be working on the following five projects: a new "Open Data Initiative," Blue Button for America, RF-PEZ, The 20% Campaign, and MyGov.

A federal government-wide Open Data Initiative

In the video below, Park talks about the Presidential Innovation Fellows program and introduces the first program, which focuses on open data:

Blue Button for America

RFP-EZ

The 20% Campaign

MyGov is the U.S. Gov.uk

For my complete interview with Park, which explores each of these fellowships in more detail, read the O'Reilly Radar feature on how US CTO seeks to scale agile thinking and open data across federal government.

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