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White House Makes Presidential Innovation Fellowship Permanent

President Obama has signed an executive order to make the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program long term with the hope of bolstering federal tech initiatives.

To cement inventive thinking and modern tech at the federal level, President Obama signed an executive order on Aug. 17 officially establishing the White House’s Presidential Innovation Fellows Program as a permanent team within the General Services Administration.

The move is intended to institutionalize the year-long program that pairs forward-thinking executives, entrepreneurs and technologists with federal employees to enhance services.

“My hope is this continues to encourage a culture of public service among our innovators and tech entrepreneurs so that we can keep building a government that’s as modern, as innovative and as engaging as our incredible tech sector is,” Obama said in the press release. “I encourage all Americans with bold ideas to apply. And I can’t wait to see what those future classes will accomplish on behalf of the American people.”

Within the GSA, the fellowship will be led by a director and an advisory board set to guide the team’s activities. Garren Givens serves as current director and has doubled as a deputy executive director for 18F, a digital team for federal agencies.

Innovation ideas that stem from the fellowship team include many open data initiatives such as the creation of OpenFDA, an effort that publishes millions of adverse event and medication error reports on FDA-regulated drugs, and the Police Data Initiative, which involves 26 jurisdictions and posts information on officer-involved-shootings, vehicle stops and citizen complaints. The group’s work has targeted a host of national issues such as the economy, health care and education. A cornerstone achievement for the group, however, may be its role in creating 18F and the tech consultant group U.S. Digital Services (USDS). The two organizations have been involved in a major push to modernize government tech projects.

“These fellows are helping us with the way Americans interact with their government online, which — as anyone who’s visited a government website will tell ya — is sorely needed,” Obama said. “So what began as an experiment is becoming a success, that’s why I’m making it permanent. From now on, Presidential Innovation Fellows will be an integral part of our government.”

As a secondary announcement, the White House introduced six new fellows to join the program:

  • Adam Bonnifield, from Washington, D.C., is the co-founder of a big data analytics platform called Spinnakr;
  • Ross Dakin is a Palo Alto, Calif., native with software engineering experience in finance, cybersecurity and infrastructure;
  • Luke Keller, from Brooklyn, N.Y., has served as a product designer and strategist in education;
  • Kate McCall-Kiley, from Kensington, Md., has served companies like Booz Allen Hamilton and Capital One as a designer focused on human-centered design and social change;
  • Josh Patterson, from Columbia, S.C., is an economist and big data scientist who has worked at Accenture Technology Labs; and
  • Alexandra Pelletier, from Jamaica Plain, Mass., previously served as the digital lead for the Innovation Acceleration Program at Boston Children’s Hospital.
White House staff were not immediately available to answer questions about funding, though it is thought to be through the GSA budget. In recent months, the USDS has struggled to secure full Congressional funding for 2016 amid what some say is pushback from partisan politics. Whether the program would be susceptible to similar setbacks is unclear.

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.