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White House Mobile Strategy Might be a Game Changer

New plan from federal IT executives is “meant to be the launch of government as a platform.”

The White House unveiled a new mobile initiative on Wednesday, May 23, that’s intended to reshape how government agencies utilize mobile platforms in serving the public.

To kick-start the initiative, federal CIO Steven VanRoekel and federal CTO Todd Park released a report on mobile strategy titled Digital Goverment: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People, a “12-month road map” to assist agencies meet goals for a more mobile government.

Digital Innovator

Federal CTO Todd Park announced during Wednesday’s telephone press conference that the White House launched the Presidential Innovation Fellows, a program that will match individuals in private sector, nonprofits or academia with federal government employees to develop innovative solutions.

“The program, in a nutshell, seeks to bring in amazing innovators from outside the government to team up with amazing innovators inside the government in small agile teams on small, game-changing projects,” Park said.

Five projects will be launched this summer as part of the project. According to the official White House website, the five projects are:

1.    MyGov
This project will focus to “reimagine the relationship between the federal government and its citizens through an online footprint developed not just for the people, but also by the people,” according to the official website.

2.    Open Data Initiatives
The project will aim to use government data to better help citizens find the right health-care provider, identify what college provides the best value, and other real-life services the public needs.

3.    Blue Button for America
This project will focus on the development of apps and other tools to help individuals get access to personal health records.

4.    RFP-EZ
The RFP-EZ project will help small businesses navigate the federal government, and enable agencies to quickly source low-cost, high-impact IT solutions.

5.    The 20% Campaign
This project is intended to develop a system that will help U.S. government programs transition away from making cash payments in support of foreign policy, development assistance, government operations or commercial activities, in favor of an e-payment system such as on mobile devices and smart cards.

 “We’re at a really interesting time,”VanRoekel said during a media conference call on Wednesday.  “This consumerization of technology, even compared to three years ago, where now nearly everyone is carrying smart devices in their pocket that have incredible computing power, where it’s creating a dynamic both inside the walls of government and outside where citizens are really demanding more.”

In tandem with the report’s release, President Barack Obama released a memorandum saying that the strategies implemented through the new initiative will help agencies more efficiently deliver digital services to the public that more effectively utilize mobile and Web-based platforms, among other things.

VanRoekel highlighted some key objectives that federal agencies should follow, as prescribed by the new report:

Make Data More Open

The Office of Management and Budget will be formulating a governmentwide policy pertaining to Web API (application programming interfaces). Systems will have to be architected to support access to high-value open data and metadata tags, the report said.

“For decades, we’ve been locking government data up in paper files or nonsearchable PDF documents and things like that,” VanRoekel said.

Launch a Shared Platform

As a method for reducing duplication and cutting costs, VanRoekel is calling on government agencies to take a “governmentwide approach” to IT solutions. Applications or other solutions that have been deployed inside a government agency should be used across other agencies as well, giving multiple agencies access to features they may have otherwise not had access to before, and in addition, allowing the private sector access to those features when appropriate.

Digital Innovation Center

Plans to set up a Digital Services Innovation Center will soon be carried out by the U.S. General Services Administration through a centralized effort to help agencies build out shared solutions for a “citizen-centric approach to Web.”

According to Code for America founder and editorial director Jennifer Pahlka, the initiative is a good move for digital government.

“Happily there is also considerable attention given to the importance of a shared platform across agencies, particularly a content delivery platform (or several) that presumably every federal agency can use,” Pahlka wrote in a Wednesday blog post. “This promotes a vision I can get behind.”


Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.