The White House is trying to bring a start-up mentality to the government by recruiting coders, programmers and other experts to work on five projects for six to 12 months as part of the new Presidential Innovation Fellows program.
Todd Park, federal chief technology officer, said the administration is looking for a specific type of person, the kind that is among the first five employees a start-up venture would hire.
“What we are looking for are bad-ass innovators,” Park said Wednesday during the rollout of the innovation program and Digital Management Strategy at the TechCrunch conference in New York City. “The baddest ass of the baddest asses out there to come to the government for focused six- to 12-month tours of duty to partner with our best innovators on game-changing projects. In the mash-up of citizen-government innovators, the idea is to work in a lean start-up mode to score a lot of points and deliver significant results within six months.”
Chief Technology Officer Todd Park puts out the call for “bad-ass innovators” to serve in federal government. View full video of TechCrunch conference below. Video source: TechCrunch.com.
The program will bring on 15 experts by July to help on projects to open up government data to a wider audience and improve how agencies meet their missions. All of the positions are compensated. The White House didn’t say how much the government would pay the experts.
“We are looking for a few good women and men to serve their country, to code, to design, to create and kick-ass for America,” he said.
The five projects cover a range of topics.
RFP-EZ – This team over a six-month period will prototype a new process and platform that enables the government to do business much more easily with startups and vice versa. Park said this will create a new market for startups — the government — and give agencies access to the best, lowest cost and highest impact tools.
MyGov – This team will make it easier for citizens and businesses to find information from the government online. Park said the team will rapidly develop a new way for citizens to interact with government that is intuitive and allows for two-way communication. As one example, Park said, 14 different websites exist for federal student aid. “There’s one website to learn about your options. There’s another website to apply for aid. There’s another website to manage you loans. There’s another website to refinance your loan,” he said.
The 20 percent campaign – This team will develop a mobile payment platform for the U.S. Agency for International Development to make payments to support foreign policy, development assistance or government or commercial activities. “There are huge opportunities unfortunately for waste, fraud and abuse and for safety issues. And there is huge potential to get much bigger bang for the buck, improve safety, improve financial inclusions and improve outcomes if you move from cash payment to mobile payment,” Park said.
Blue Button – The goal is to expand the portability of electronic health records from just Defense Department service members and veterans to all citizens. Park said in the 18 months since DoD and the Veterans Affairs Department launched the process, more than 1 million service members and veterans downloaded their health data. “We are launching an effort to clone that program across the private sector. We also want to stimulate tools by entrepreneurs to upload the data into your tool to better manage their health,” he said.
Open Data Initiative – This effort builds on Data.gov and the success of commercializing Global Positioning Satellite data and weather information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Park said the goal is to focus on new areas such as health, energy, education, public safety and the non-profit sectors. “The whole idea is to liberate brand new data, make public data machine readable and educate entrepreneurs that this incredible reservoir of data is now available for free for you as raw material to create magic,” he said.
In addition to finding fellows to serve in government, Park said the government would like to find others to provide expertise, mentoring or someone who just wants to participate in an ad hoc basis.
Interest in innovation has been building
Park is confident the innovation fellows program will get a lot of interest. He said private sector participation has been increasing over the last three years.
“We’ve been doing meet-ups, hackathons and datapaloozas to get the word out about the data. The datapaloozas are events where in partnership with the other organizations, like National Institute of Medicine, who have been issuing open calls for any innovator who’s built something awesome with our data to present that innovation via tent-style talk at a national datapalooza,” he said. “What’s been happening more and more folks have been throwing their hat in the ring. The first datapalooza had 20 companies exhibit, the second had 50 and the third datapalooza, which is happening June 5-6 in Washington, has 230 companies throwing their hat in the ring to showcase their data-powered innovations products and services.”
Park said doctors, patients and community leaders will select the 100 best ones through an “American Idol” type of competition.
Park also used his own experience in coming to the government as a way to inspire people to join this effort.
After starting and selling several companies in the U.S. and overseas, Park joined the Department of Health and Human Services as its CTO. He became the federal CTO seven weeks ago.
“The most entrepreneurial experience I’ve ever had, I’ve ever had has been the last 2 1/2 years serving in the federal government,” Park said.
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, which airs from 6-9 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC region and online everywhere. Tom has 30 years experience in journalism, mostly in technology markets. Before coming to Federal News Radio, he was a long-serving editor-in-chief of Government Computer News and Washington Technology magazines.