White House Recruits Tech Entrepreneurs - InformationWeek

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Government // Open Government

White House Recruits Tech Entrepreneurs

Presidential Innovation Fellows are slated to work on high-impact tech projects throughout the government.

Top 10 Government IT Innovators Of 2013
Top 10 Government IT Innovators Of 2013
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Uncle Sam wants a few good innovators -- again. The White House has launched the third round of its Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program, which pairs tech-savvy entrepreneurs from the private sector with top government officials to tackle selected challenges facing the administration.

The program's "lean startup" approach has delivered a variety of tools, including ones that help the public save on utility bills and improve access to government health information, and it has brought acclaim to participants.

The White House will assign the latest round of applicants to one of 14 projects in six- to 12-month sprints focused on three major initiatives:

Improving veterans' digital experience with the VA: The administration will task Presidential Innovation Fellows to find better ways to provide a digital "one-stop shop" for accessing services and benefits from many different programs offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, emphasizing the use of consumer-oriented technology and APIs.

Data innovation: The Obama administration, through the White House's Open Data Initiative, wants to help agencies make government information more accessible to the public. The initiative has led a variety of companies, entrepreneurs, and individuals to create innovative services and products. Fellows will work at one of eight agencies -- the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Census Bureau, NASA, IRS, and Interior, Labor, Energy, and Health and Human Services departments, in conjunction with the VA, the Defense Department, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services -- on specific projects aimed at accelerating the availability of their data for commercial and citizen use.

Crowdsourcing to improve government: The White House has lined up five projects requiring massive amounts of identification and processing work where interested communities can play a vital role. For instance, NASA's Asteroid Grand Challenge plans to develop crowdsourcing tools to identify asteroid threats to human populations. In another project, the US Patent and Trademark Office wants to crowdsource patent searches, helping to find "prior art" that patent examiners need to decide if an invention is patent worthy.

[Open government data holds great economic promise but faces more than technical hurdles. See Why Free Government Data Remains A Tough Sell.]

Previous fellows in the first two rounds have worked on diverse projects. For instance, they helped develop a crowdsourcing platform for the National Archives and Records Administration, so citizens can transcribe handwritten historical records and documents, preserving the information and making it easier to search and use information in the records.

President Obama hears from recent Presidential Innovation Fellows.(Source: White House)
President Obama hears from recent Presidential Innovation Fellows.
(Source: White House)

"In just six months, fellows developed and launched an end-to-end solution for creating digital records for historic files," US CTO Todd Park and Dan Tangherlini, head of the General Services Administration, said in a joint blog post. That effort "in turn engaged thousands of volunteers who have helped to transcribe and review more than 3,000 historic and scientific records which are now easily accessible to the public for the first time."

In another example, fellows worked on several projects to make it easier to do business with the government, helping to create RFP-EZ, an online platform for the Small Business Administration that makes it easier for small companies to bid on government contracts while making it easier for the agencies to identify which bids offer the best value for taxpayers.

Presidential Innovation Fellows program applicants have until April 7 to submit applications.

Download Healthcare IT In The Obamacare Era, the InformationWeek Healthcare digital issue on changes driven by regulation. Modern technology created the opportunity to restructure the healthcare industry around accountable care organizations, but ACOs also put new demands on IT.

Washington-based Patience Wait contributes articles about government IT to InformationWeek. View Full Bio

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User Rank: Author
3/10/2014 | 6:20:22 PM
Prize post
Landing a presidential innovation fellowship is a prized position but those who have taken on the challenge say they would do it again, but were surprised by the lack of resources. It definitely requires thinking out-of-the-box and a strong constitution to work within entrenched bureaucracies try to get things done.
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