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6/14/2012
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10 Handy Mobile Apps From Uncle Sam

Take a look at federal agencies' newest iPhone, Android, and mobile applications, ranging from a Smokey Bear wildfire-tracking app to an app that advises you how long it will take to clear customs at the airport.
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Uncle Sam is getting hip to mobile devices. More than 100 mobile applications are now available from the federal government, a number that will keep growing as agencies respond to a recent White House initiative requiring them to make their services available for mobile use.

The federal Digital Government Strategy, introduced in May by the Office of Management and Budget, gives each federal agency an end-of-year deadline for delivering two "customer-facing services" to mobile devices. The goal is to serve the public "anytime, anywhere, on the device of their choice," said federal CIO Steven VanRoekel in a blog post on the Digital Government Strategy.

Many federal agencies were already moving in this direction. More than 100 mobile apps are available for public consumption through USA.gov, in categories such as health and fitness, education, and travel. Dozens of others are available to federal employees through portals such as the Army's Software Marketplace.

The feds recently released six more mobile apps, including the Forest Service's Smokey Bear app (pictured above), which provides advice on how to build and extinguish campfires and a real-time map of wildfires around the country. It's available as a website optimized for mobile devices, and as a download for iPhones and Androids.

The Digital Government Strategy aims to make content available through Web APIs and "on any device." Most of the apps on USA.gov are available for one or two--if not all--of the popular devices: iPhones, iPads, Androids, and BlackBerrys.

Agencies must decide whether to build mobile apps with their own internal resources, to contract development to a third party, or to leave the work to entrepreneurs and volunteers. Just last week, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences issued a request for information seeking help in the design and development of iPhone and iPad apps.

InformationWeek has been following the emergence of "mobile government" closely. In June 2011, we profiled 14 cool mobile apps from federal agencies, and in December we highlighted 10 iPad apps.

Here, we feature 10 of the government's newest mobile apps, most of which are available on USA.gov. Ranging from the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list to child safety tips, they reflect the varied nature of agency missions and the diversity of their constituencies.

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