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11/6/2009
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Craigslist Founder To Advise Veteran Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs has invited Craig Newmark to join a panel to review suggestions for fixing its claims processing.

Craig Newmark, the founder of classified ad site Craigslist, will participate in a new panel formed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to review ideas for improving disability claims processing at the agency.

The VA's disability claims processing system faces challenges ranging from long wait times to lost files. According to recent VA inspector general reports, veterans wait on average 179 days to get claims processed, and about 3% of all physical claims folders are missing.

The advisory panel is an outgrowth of a crowd-sourcing competition at VA, launched in September, that encourages employees to submit ideas for transforming VA services. That's led to more than 3,000 submissions. The panel will review them and chose five projects to receive funding, Newmark said in an e-mail.

The customer service operations that support VA's disability claims processing also need improvement. Not coincidentally, Newmark has a hand in customer service at Craigslist, where he personally answers troubleshooting e-mails.

"My customer service job keeps me connected with millions of people on a day-to-day basis, that's over a very broad demographic," he said. "Every day I see that the more eyeballs you have on a problem, the more likely you are to find it and to fix it. In particular, an outside voice who can serve as a 'customer advocate' is a very useful match to VA's needs."

Newmark has recently gotten involved in the open government movement known as "Government 2.0," and he is a regular attendee at government technology conferences in Washington, D.C.

Newmark serves on the board of directors of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and he has spoken out on veterans issues in his personal blog and on Twitter, championing the new GI bill and increases in healthcare funding at the VA and pushing Congress to pass the VA's budget.

"Transforming VA into an organization that is veteran-centric, results-oriented and forward-looking is my top priority," VA secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement. "Leveraging the talent, innovation and creativity of stakeholders like Craig Newmark is just one of the many ways VA can think outside of the box to help deliver tangible results to our nation's veterans."

In his short tenure, Shinseki has made claims processing a priority. He said earlier this year that the agency would phase out paper processing and hire more than 1,000 new claims processing employees.

Though there may be technology elements to improving claims processing at the VA, Newmark thinks the focus needs to be on process improvement. "This is really a business process re-engineering thing," he said. "Way back at IBM I got trained in that, and have applied that to my own efforts, since day one."



InformationWeek Analytics has published a guide to the Open Government Directive and what it means for federal CIOs. Download the report here (registration required).

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