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Feds Face Challenges In Mobility Mandate

As agencies develop apps that extend government data to on-the-go citizens and employees, many issues have cropped up.
InformationWeek Green - Jan. 14, 2013
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Anytime, Anywhere

The goal of the White House's Digital Government Strategy, spelled out in minute detail in a 36-page document, can be summed up in a few words: Make federal information and services available to the public "anytime, anywhere, on any device."

Introduced by President Obama in May, the strategy reflects the fact that most Americans now carry mobile phones, which they increasingly use to get government-provided information on everything from treating cancer to navigating airport security. "The innovative use of technology is fundamentally transforming how the American people do business and live their daily lives," Obama wrote in the memo outlining the strategy and urging agencies to get on board.

The plan calls for building a "21st century platform" to deliver digital services to the public, and it lays out 29 action items to be completed by May 23, 2013. Objectives for each agency include making "high value data" from at least two major IT systems available through Web APIs; establishing a governance structure for developing and delivering digital services; and implementing performance and customer-satisfaction measures on .gov websites.

"Citizens can expect to see a government that provides better service at lower costs," said federal CIO Steven VanRoekel in an interview with InformationWeek Government. VanRoekel announced plans to develop a national mobility strategy 12 months ago at the CES Government conference in Las Vegas, and he invited the public's input. The Digital Government Strategy was hatched five months later.

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The Digital Government Strategy is based on four principles. First, it steers agencies away from managing documents, as they have for decades, and toward managing "discrete pieces of open data and content" that are tagged, shared and presented in a variety of digital formats. Second, it seeks to do so using a "shared platform" comprising a content management system and Web APIs, and through a consistent approach to mobile app development. Third, the strategy is intended to be "customer-centric" (more on that below). And fourth, digital content must be secure and incorporate privacy safeguards.

Agencies are making more government content available to on-the-go citizens by developing applications for iPhones, Androids and other mobile devices; by optimizing federal websites for mobile access; and by making Uncle Sam's data more widely available for use in applications developed by third parties. May 23 is a key deadline: Agencies must optimize at least two existing customer-facing services for mobile use and publish a plan for further enhancements.

Many agencies have been moving in this direction for the past couple of years. The portal already hosts some 130 downloadable apps for the Apple iOS, Android and BlackBerry operating systems and links to federal websites optimized for mobile access. The newest apps include a mobile version of the Government Printing Office's Plum Book, a listing of more than 9,000 executive and executive-support positions in federal government, and an app from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that supports its rental assistance program. Other federally developed mobile apps are available on agency websites and on Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market.

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