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7/8/2013
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Obama Reboots Technology Mission To Improve Government

President's second-term management agenda focuses on tapping private sector talent to help the government improve its services.

NASA's Next 5 Missions
NASA's Next 5 Missions
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President Barack Obama on Monday re-emphasized the importance of using technology and private sector experts to make the government "smarter, quicker and more responsive" to the public, a critical element of his second-term agenda. Following a private meeting with his cabinet, he announced that Sylvia Burwell, new director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), will lead the "aggressive management" effort.

Burwell, who was confirmed by the Senate in April, has held high-profile posts in both government and private sectors, including at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walmart Foundation. She took the reins at OMB as federal IT spending increased nearly 2%, to $82 billion, in the fiscal 2014 budget. It was the first significant increase in federal IT spending in four years.

The effort builds on Obama's first-term plan to open up government data to the public and industry. In May, the president signed an executive order requiring that data generated by the government must be made available to the public in open, machine-readable formats. The OMB and the Office of Science and Technology Policy also released an Open Data Policy to ensure that federal agencies manage government information as an asset. The policy was created to make previously unavailable government data accessible to entrepreneurs, researchers and the public for the purpose of building new products, services and businesses.

[ Why is government studying the brain? Read Obama Brain Mapping Project Tests Big Data Limits. ]

Currently, Data.gov houses 75,718 datasets, which have resulted in 349 citizen-developed apps, according to the site. Data.gov allows the public to download and use datasets that are generated by the federal government.

The White House's agenda is mainly a renewed emphasis on bringing private sector talent to help the government improve its services. Federal agencies now have access to a new group of Presidential Innovation Fellows, who were selected late last month. The second class of 43 innovators and entrepreneurs from the private sector -- including Scott Wu, who launches and invests in young companies, and Claire Holroyd, who most recently served as senior product manager for Sony Network Entertainment -- will work on nine program areas that aim to bring private sector expertise to the government. MyUSA is one of five initiatives that are part of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. The project's goal is to simplify the interaction between the government and the public, such as filling out federal forms online and tracking their progress.

So far, "we've made good progress on all fronts," said Obama during Monday's speech. One example is the relaunch of HealthCare.gov which allows citizens to shop around for health insurance. He noted other significant efforts, including naming Todd Park as the nation's chief technology officer and Steven VanRoekle as Federal CIO. Together with OMB, VanRoekel and agency leaders have identified $2.5 billion in wasted IT spending. "But we need to do more," Obama added. "We're operating under severe fiscal constraints. We could use Congress' help… to redesign the federal government and to deliver better services."

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