White House Execs: There’s (Going to Be) an App For That


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White House IT executives met to speak on the administration’s strategy for encouraging technical innovation in the federal government at the Brookings Institution this morning.

U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra, U.S CIO Vivek Kundra and Senior NEC Advisor Phil Weiser outlined a holistic approach to “bridge the culture gap between consumers and government.”

“While our culture celebrates that ‘there’s an app for that’, in Washington we still reside in a culture where… “there’s a form for that,” Chopra told a conference room of DC attendees among whom not one owned a Farmville account (a discovery made when Weiser conducted an informal show of hands).

3 Tiered Strategy:

The panel presented a three-tiered Presidential strategy for reforming the federal system of bureaucratic paper-pushing. Chief priority, Chopra said, is investing in the building blocks of innovation — namely, infrastructure that will support a technical future based on cloud computing and mobility. This, he said, involves working with the FCC to reform and expand broadband access to all Americans through programs like the “Beta Block” R&D initiative, which seeks to deliver 1 gigabyte to the poorest American homes.

“Cloud computing rests on broadband technology,” Kundra said. “Getting as many people connected as possible is one of the great challenges of our administration.”

Second step of the White House strategy: spur productive entrepreneurship through competitive markets.  The panelists outlined various cash-for-apps competitions that federal agencies have sponsored that encourage entrepreneurship by offering rewards for individuals who come up with the most effective, cost-saving or inventive apps. Recent examples of this trend include the USDA’s Apps for Healthy Kids, Gov 2.0 Apps for Army, the DARPA Network Challenge and the i6 EDA program, among others.

Kundra contextualized this strategy as part of a “global movement to democratize data” and compared the Data.gov approach to Apple’s strategy of creating the iTunes platform to enable private individuals to create the applications.

“With this platform, we have seen 3rd parties create value at the intersections of various data sets,” Kundra said. The Data.gov platform currently supports 250,000 applications.

Finally, the top tier of the Presidential strategy outlined methods for “catalyzing breakthroughs for national priorities”, a strategy which seeks public input on what projects the administration targets with its new arsenal of tech.  Chopra cited healthcare IT specifications to allow easy, secure sharing of medical records as one such pressing issue, and said that a pilot program will be tested in June.

The event, “Improving Science and Technology Innovation in the United States”, was part of the inaugural A. Alfred Taubman Forum.

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