In the year since the Office of Management and Budget released the Digital Government Strategy, agencies have slowly begun to change.
Topping that effort was the new open government executive order and memo released last week, and federal chief information officer Steven VanRoekel said the government is ready to unleash the potential of data. While a lot of the evidence still is anecdotal, the Office of Management and Budget and agencies are seeing change bit-by-bit. VanRoekel said measuring wholesale change is slow, and the administration hasn’t done an official assessment of the impact.
“Todd Park, [the federal chief technology officer], and I have been hosting these roundtables with people that build solutions with government data and have been holding them for quite some time, since the middle of last summer after we had launched the strategy,” VanRoekel said Wednesday during a press conference with reporters at the FOSE trade show in Washington. “Todd and I have talked about starting to collect and broadcasting some of that information about who’s doing what and what interesting things [are] happening. We have anecdotal examples of this company created 90 jobs or this company has done 15 jobs. Things like that are starting to happen, but nothing official yet. But it’s an area where we have opportunity to talk about this because it is starting to tick-up a bit and the numbers are starting to look pretty good.”
One anecdote is how software developers use government information and APIs to build software that VanRoekel said is head-and-tails above what others have developed previously using similar data.
And VanRoekel said more tools are coming in the next week or two as part of the one-year milestones for the Digital Government Strategy.
“You’ll see in the coming weeks specific delivery around security baselines for mobile devices,” he said. “You are going to see some new approaches to the way we build mobile apps inside government. Earlier this year, we issued the bring-your- own-device initial guidance and we are working through a lot of the security aspects of that. That will be reflected in our baselines.”
Additionally, OMB and the General Services Administration will make it easier for agencies to buy, test and implement mobile devices by taking a do-once, use-many approach.
Among the one-year milestones due by May 23 are the launch of a shared mobile app platform and the security baseline, which will include use cases developed by the Homeland Security Department.
The Digital Government Strategy and the new Executive Order and policy around open data are among the building blocks to change the way the government takes in data and makes it accessible.
VanRoekel said the software community wants to access government data and even find data that they may not know exists.
“There is an aspect of this that is going to be about how do we build community around government data? How do we gather new data? How do we triangulate existing data in a way that can create value?” he said. “Part of the both cross agency priority goal called for in the Executive Order, the inventory and all the stuff we are doing in the policy will start to get this conversation started.”
VanRoekel said agencies will be looking to release three types of data.
The first is what he called the “blocking-and-tackling” data that is used to compute and build the systems of government to meet mission, to streamline processes and the information that agencies disseminate publicly.
“Number two is big data. Medical data, research data and science data, [that] now is part of the mix of [how] we want to fundamentally transform that in multiple ways,” VanRoekel said. “How do we adopt these open data principles and publish scientific data that is public owned through public grants. It’s something we just came out with a position on recently.”
The third area is what VanRoekel called evidence-based decision making data.
“How are we using the principles of the transactional data and the big data to make better decisions about policy outcomes inside government?” he said.
The third area of data tags back to OMB’s effort to create a Data Driven Innovation fund. OMB asked for about $6 million in the fiscal 2014 budget request to Congress with the goal of expanding the data-driven reviews beyond IT programs. VanRoekel said the fund builds on the effort to make data-driven decisions, which started with TechStat and expanded to PortfolioStat.
Analyzing data calls
A growing concern around making more data accessible is the cost to the agencies to manage and respond to requests. Does this cost outweigh the benefits of making the data accessible, especially in these tight budget times?
VanRoekel said no. He said moving out of paper-based processes and using data standards will reduce costs to agencies and offset by a large percentage the price tag to make information available more widely.
But OMB and the CIO Council will monitor this challenge.
“One of the things I’ve requested the team do is put up a very simple API, what’s called a key manager, which allows developers to give us analytics on the data being accessed in a way that can create relationships,” VanRoekel said. “We can get indications that some vendor on the outside is really drawing the system down and we can have conversations about how do we manage that.”
As part of the open data policy, OMB also released a host of tools, including those that will help users improve how information is visualized, mapped and includes access to an Application Programming Interface (API) for developers.
OMB also announced the expansion of the Open Data Project, which now includes the release of open source tools on Github, which is a site that lets communities of developers collaboratively develop solutions.
In fact, VanRoekel published the Open Data Project to Github on Wednesday, asking for help in how agencies manage data. This was the first submission to the site under the new open data policy.