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October 26, 2015

[liveblog][act-tiac] A federal portal in the age of search?

Sarah Crane, Dir., Federal Citizen Information Center, GSA., is going to talk about USA.gov. “In a world where everyone can search and has apps, is a web portal relevant?,” she asks.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.


When the US web portal (first.gov [archival copy]) was launched in 2000, it had an important role in aggregating and centralizing content. Now people arrive through search.


USA.gov is a platform that offers a full suite of bilingual products, built around a single structured API: information, contacts, social media, etc. All is built around a single API. The presentation layer is independent of the content. Thanks to the API, all the different outputs use the same consistent content.


It’s designed to integrate with other agency content. In fact, they don’t want to be writing any of the content; it should come from other agencies. Also, it’s built to so its modules and content can be reused. And it’s built to scale. It can support expansion or consolidation. E.g., if an initiative loses steam, its content can be pulled in and be kept available.


How people use govt services: They look online, they ask their friends, and they expect it to be easy. People are surprised when it’s complex. Some people prefer in-person help.


So, how does the portal remain relevant?


Customer experience is a core tenant. They recently launched a Customer Experience division. Constant measurement of performance. Fixing what doesn’t work. Clear lines of reporting up to the senior management. The lines of reporting also reach all the way to the devs.


Last year they re-did their personas, based on four different behaviors: 1. Someone who knows exactly what s/he’s looking for. 2. Someone has a general idea, but not informed enough to search. 3. Someone wants to complete a transaction. 4. Someone who wants to contact an elected official. They analyzed the experiences, and did “journey maps”: how someone gets to what she wants. These journeys often include travels into other agencies, which they also mapped.


What’s next for them now that info is cheap and easy to find? Sarah likes Mint.com‘s model:


  • Aggregated, personalized content collected from multiple agencies.

  • Pre-emptive service – alert, etc.

  • Relevant updates as you are in the task.

For further info, see Blog.USA.gov, and USA.gov/Explore


Q&A

Q: [me] Are people building on top of your API?


A: Some aspects, yes. Heavily used: the A-Z agency index – the only complete listing of every agency and their contact info. There’s a submission to build a machine-readable org chart of the govt that will build on top of our platform. [OMG! That would be incredible! And what is happening to me that I’m excited about a machine-readable org chart?]


Also if you use bit.ly to shorten a gov’t url, it creates one.usa.gov which you can use to track twitter activity, etc.


Certain aspects of the API are being used heavily, primarily the ones that show a larger perspective.


Q: Won’t people find personal notifications from the govt creepy, even though they like it when it’s Mint or Amazon?


A: The band-aid solution is to make it opt-in. Also being transparent about the data, where it’s stored, etc. This can never be mandatory. The UK’s e-verify effort aims at making the top 20 services digital through a single ID. We’d have to study that carefully We’d have to engage with the privacy groups (eg., EPIC) early on.


Q: Suppose it was a hybrid of automated and manual? E.g., I tell the site I’m turning 62 and then it gives me the relevant info, as opposed to it noting from its data that I’m turning 62.


Q: We’re losing some of the personal contact. And who are you leaving behind?


A: Yes, some people want to talk in person. Our agency actually started in 1972 supplying human-staffed kiosks where people could ask questions. Zappos is a model: You can shop fully online, but people call their customer service because it’s so much fun. We’re thinking about prompting people if they want to chat with a live person.


The earliest adopters are likely to be the millennials, and they’re not the ones who need the services generally. But they talk with their parents.

 


 

I briefly interviewed Sarah afterwards. Among other things, I learned:



  • The platform was launched in July


  • They are finding awesome benefits to the API approach as an internal architecture: consistent and efficiently-created content deployed across multiple sites and devices; freedom to innovate at both the front and back end; a far more resilient system that will allow them to swap in a new CMS with barely a hiccup.


  • I mentioned NPR’s experience with moving to an API architecture, and she jumped in with  COPE (create once, publish everywhere) and has been talking with Dan Jacobson, among others. (I wrote about that here.)


  • She’s certainly aware of the “government as platform” approach, but says that that phrase and model is more direclty influential over at 18F


  • Sarah is awesome.

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[liveblog][act-tiac] The nation's front door

Sarah Crane, Dir., Federal Citizen Information Center, GSA., is going to talk about USA.gov. “In a world where everyone can search and has apps, is a web portal relevant?,” she asks.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

When the US web portal (first.gov [archival copy]) was launched in 2000, it had an important role in aggregating and centralizing content. Now people arrive through search.

USA.gov is a platform that offers a full suite of bilingual products, built around a single structured API: information, contacts, social media, etc. All is built around a single API. The presentation layer is independent of the content. Thanks to the API, all the different outputs use the same consistent content.

It’s designed to integrate with other agency content. In fact, they don’t want to be writing any of the content; it should come from other agencies. Also, it’s built to so its modules and content can be reused. And it’s built to scale. It can support expansion or consolidation. E.g., if an initiative loses steam, its content can be pulled in and be kept available.

How people use govt services: They look online, they ask their friends, and they expect it to be easy. People are surprised when it’s complex. Some people prefer in-person help.

So, how does the portal remain relevant?

Customer experience is a core tenant. They recently launched a Customer Experience division. Constant measurement of performance. Fixing what doesn’t work. Clear lines of reporting up to the senior management. The lines of reporting also reach all the way to the devs.

Last year they re-did their personas, based on four different behaviors: 1. Someone who knows exactly what s/he’s looking for. 2. Someone has a general idea, but not informed enough to search. 3. Someone wants to complete a transaction. 4. Someone who wants to contact an elected official. They analyzed the experiences, and did “journey maps”: how someone gets to what she wants. These journeys often include travels into other agencies, which they also mapped.

What’s next for them now that info is cheap and easy to find? Sarah likes Mint.com‘s model:

  • Aggregated, personalized content collected from multiple agencies.

  • Pre-emptive service – alert, etc.

  • Relevant updates as you are in the task.

See Blog.USA.gov, and USA.gov/Explore

Q&A

Q: [me] Are people building on top of your API?

A: Some aspects, yes. Heavily used: the A-Z agency index – the only complete listing of every agency and their contact info. There’s a submission to build a machine-readable org chart of the govt that will build on top of our platform. [OMG! That would be incredible! And what is happening to me that I’m excited about a machine-readable org chart?]

Also if you use bit.ly to shorten a gov’t url, it creates one.usa.gov which you can use to track twitter activity, etc.

Certain aspects of the API are being used heavily, primarily the ones that show a larger perspective.

Q: Won’t people find personal notifications from the govt creepy, even though they like it when it’s Mint or Amazon?

A: The band-aid solution is to make it opt-in. Also being transparent about the data, where it’s stored, etc. This can never be mandatory. The UK’s e-verify effort aims at making the top 20 services digital through a single ID. We’d have to study that carefully We’d have to engage with the privacy groups (eg., EPIC) early on.

Q: Suppose it was a hybrid of automated and manual? E.g., I tell the site I’m turning 62 and then it gives me the relevant info, as opposed to it noting from its data that I’m turning 62.

Q: We’re losing some of the personal contact. And who are you leaving behind?

A: Yes, some people want to talk in person. Our agency actually started in 1972 supplying human-staffed kiosks where people could ask questions. Zappos is a model: You can shop fully online, but people call their customer service because it’s so much fun. We’re thinking about prompting people if they want to chat with a live person.

The earliest adopters are likely to be the millennials, and they’re not the ones who need the services generally. But they talk with their parents.

 


 

I briefly interviewed Sarah afterwards. Among other things, I learned:

  • The platform was launched in July.

  • The platform software is open source.

  • They are finding awesome benefits to the API approach as an internal architecture: consistent and efficiently-created content deployed across multiple sites and devices; freedom to innovate at both the front and back end; a far more resilient system that will allow them to swap in a new CMS with barely a hiccup.

  • I mentioned NPR’s experience with moving to an API architecture, and she jumped in with COPE (create once, publish everywhere) and has been talking with Dan Jacobson, among others. (I wrote about that here.)

  • She’s certainly aware of the “government as platform” approach, but says that that phrase and model is more directly influential over at 18F

  • Sarah is awesome. The people in government service these days!

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[liveblog][act-iac] Innovation in govt

Brian Nordmann (Senior Advisor, Arms Control, Verification and Compliance at U.S. Department of State) begins with the standard disclaimer that he’s not speaking for the Dept. of State. And here’s mine:

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Brian reminds us that “innovation” has become a tired term. There was a govt flurry to innovate, but no one said exactly what “innovation” means. The State Dept. built a structure so there could be quarterly reports on innovation. “If you want to guarantee that you don’t do anything innovative, create a structure for writing reports.” He says this was a shame because in the basement there was already the perfect place for innovation: The Foggy Bottom Cafe — Starbucks, ice cream parlor, etc.. Sect’y Colin Powell went down there every day because he knew in 45 minutes he’d get twenty-five innovative ideas. People sit there and share ideas. “This is how you get innovation done in the gov’t”: Give people the freedom to talk, and the freedom to fail.

A couple of years ago his group started doing public challenges. In the first one, they got 150 entries. They awarded $5K for ideas they would have had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for. But then the lawyers discovered they were doing this and wrote a EULA for the site — 28 pages, with buttons strewn throughout that you have to press. Twenty-seven people applied to that year’s challenge.

Brian’s job is simple: Get rid of all nuclear weapons in the world. His office’s job is to come up with ways to verify agreements. In the 1960s, the sensors were physically large: big, expensive, fragile, and now replacement parts don’t exist. A radar installation in the Aleutian Islands looking for nuclear missile launches uses vacuum tubes.

Now their challenge is to explore arms control in the information age. What can we learn from YouTube, Facebook, etc.? But the lawyers say that’s a privacy violation. So, instead they’re investigating the Internet of Things. People don’t mean the same thing by that phrase. Brian means by it: networks with sensors.

Are there things we can do to get the public involved in arms control? It’s a complex issue, but you can simplify it to: What can we do to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Brian holds up a small spectrometer that feeds into a laptop. It’s used to analyze water quality. Another instrument is a rolled-up piece of cardboard that attaches to your phone. And smartphones’ accelerometers can sense earthquakes…and nuclear explosions. They could alert agencies that they need to look at the explosion more closely.

Researchers in Hawaii bought 12 iPhone6’s to explore this, which tripped an alarm at Apple. Apple contacted the researchers. The researchers told Apple that their phones could be used as seismic detectors, and that the iPhone6 degraded that capability. The researchers are trying to broaden Apple’s sense that its phones can be used for more than app delivery.

For innovation, you want to talk to new people, not the same people all the time. By bringing in new people, you’ll get a lot of junk, but also some ideas worth exploring. Hobbyists and startups are generally better to talk with than large companies. Brian spoke with Tom Dolby, ex of MTV, who has a media lab at Johns Hopkins that is working with Baltimore youth. Brian works with a California group teaching Latino kids how to program. Imagine putting them together, along with people from around the world, and create a Teen Summit. Imagine they see what they have in common and what they do not.

Q: How are you communicating to device manufacturers that they are platforms for innovation?

A: People respond to a title that ends with “US Dept. of State.”

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[liveblog] ACT-IAC opening session

I’m at an ACT-IAC conference. (I’m the dinner speaker.) The opening session is a discussion with seven government IT and industry leaders.

  • Case Coleman, Unisys

  • Mary Davie, GSA

  • Annie Rung, OMB

  • Lisa Schlosserl e-gov office of OMB

  • Kathleen Turco, Veterans Health Admin

  • Renee Wynn, NASA CIO

  • Margie Graces, DHS (moderator)

Yes, all women. I know from the organizers that this was not done on purpose. Unfortunately, there are no name signs or labels on the screen I’m looking at—I’m all the way on the margin of a wide breakfast room with maybe 1,500 people in it, so I can’t tell who is who, so this will be unattributed except where the speaker indicates where she’s from.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

– The moderator asks how the Internet of Things is affecting them.

– The person from NASA points out that this now includes devices beyond our solar system.

– The growth of the Net into the physical world brings challenges. E.g., drones.

– NASA: We have to bring together all sorts of info, for example in a disaster. That includes drone info but also about physical infrastructure, health care records,etc. We have to integrate the stove pipes. “One single stream of info won’t give you the whole picture.” She gives as an example the fact that she sometimes takes off her FitBit, so it does not give a complete picture.

– Also for intel assessments.

– This requires a progressive view of what’s going on in computing.

– We need to be able to embrace the cloud, scale up and down, embrace the new environment.

– “The privacy side terrifies me.” There’s been progress made in the “sprint” to modernize IT, to change the conversation. But it’s a marathon. The effort has support from the top. It’s a consistent part of the agenda. We need to measure, measure, measure.

– NASA: Cybersecurity has to change. Moats and castles are no longer adequate defenses. When the human body gets a splinter, it sends antibodies right to that splinter so you won’t get infected. “Are we going towards an injection into our network and then quickly sending the right bots to isolate and report back so we can decide what’s the best way to proceed? We have to evolve.”

– DHS [I think]: We’re doing the band-aids we need to do now. But we know we have to evolve, both in the private and public sectors. There are no edges any more. We’re piloting some of this different thinking in our R&D efforts. You’ll see more about this in the very near future.

– Part of this is predictive analysis, so we can “skate to the puck,” as they say.

– We need to create environments where people can do their best work. We’re no longer in an industrial age where everyone does the same thing in a repetitive fashion. Info workers each bring a unique intellectual contribution.

– We’re all trying to adopt the “servant leadership” model, getting obstacles out of the way.

– NASA: We have to raise the next generation of leaders. I talk to my 23 yr old son — “parenting by text”—sound familiar to any of you? — and there’s no sensitivity to privacy, and, distressingly, little consideration of cyber. E.g., the next gen will have to think about how to have a workforce that’s human and robotic. How do we prepare them for the next big change?

– Moderator: How do we get our message out so we can hire better?

– DHS: We brought together 30 student leaders and had them engage on this. It was amazing.

– Mod: There’s a lot more circulation through employers. That’s enriching for the organizations. Then there’s FITARA, which empowers agency-level CIOs.

– Some CFOs are scared of it, but I welcome it. We need the CIOs and the acquisition folks to be at the table. There need to be joint decisions across the agencies and departments.

– FITARA calls for IT cadres [?]. We kicked off our first class for acquisition professionals. Six month hands-on training. We want to train them going from the 90 page specification document to much more compact, ourcome-focused descriptions, smaller work modules, etc.

– We’ve got to do problem solving in every corner of the room, whiteboarding, brainstorming, move on from the problem to the solution quickly. When the acquisition and finance sides of the equation start to support that, we’re getting some of the old obstacles out of the way.

– We’re all in agreement that we need to do things differently in the federal market, moving to rapid info sharing. Currently we spend a couple of years to get the requisition out, then a year to make a decision, and then the tech is out of date. Now the contracting community has to know the org charts for every agency so they can gather info. “You shouldn’t have to know the org chart of the agency to get the info you need.”You shouldn’t have to know the org chart of the agency to get the info you need. We’re now starting to provide the right tools for info sharing and collaboration.

– VA: Funding isn’t going to increase. We’ve got tto find savings in the system: collaboration, governance, and do new things in acquisition.

– An example: Someone [couldn’t get who] is narrowing bidders down to five and asking each to do a quick prototype.

– Category management: divide the things that agencies acquire into categories and bring in a category expert who may not be a procurement expert. The supplier piece is crucial. it means figuring out what your customers need. Category mgt began in the retail industry. They developed customer profiles. We need that approach.

VA: We’re at last beginning to treat our veterans as customers, putting them and their experience first. They’re not happy but we’re getting better. Same for employees. Too many hoops to hire someone new. We need to speed that up.

– We’ve never asked industry how agencies do in acquisitions. Now we’re doing 360s on specific IT acquisitions. The first set of data comes in in Nov. We’re going to identify best practices and where we’re not doing so well. Was there an adequate debrief? Were you given enough time to respond? We’ve never asked these questions before.

– Within your zone of trust in govt you don’t realize that people outside of it have so much trouble getting info.

– We should be using all of our authority to make progress in acquisitions. There’s lots we can do.

– Our contracting officers are recognizing that the more conversations we have about the actual challenges we’re facing within IT, we can brainstorm things before we even get to the table. There are many mechanisms for doing that, including prototyping, etc.

– We have to move away from the rules based approach, to focusing on the outcomes. [applause] “Yeah, break the rules! Nah, I’m not saying that. Take responsible risks :) ”Yeah, break the rules! [clearly joking] Nah, I’m not saying that. Take responsible risks.

-It’s a huge challenge to let your appropriators know that we have to move forward

– Mod: This is more like a revolution than an evolution. It’s a groundswell. We’re not going to let up. There’s a lot of education to do. A consistent message coming from IT, acquisitions and finance sectors, it’ll get through.

[Not a single mention that this was an all-woman panel, which makes me even happier.]

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September 11, 2015

[liveblog] Bringing Silicon Valley to Government

I’m at an event sponsored by the Shorenstein Center and Ash Center and the Center for Public Leadership on “Bringing Silicon Valley to Government?” (#HKSgovtech). Panelists are:

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Van Dyck, Sinai, and Martin
Van Dyck, Sinai, and Martin

Maria Martin begins. She had founded a company and worked there for ten years, but then applied to be a Presidential Innovation Fellow, thinking she stood no chance. (She lightly recommends sending in a resume printed on colored paper.) She got in, and moved to DC for six months, or so she thought. Then she was asked to be a senior advisor in the White House. One day her boss, Todd Park [former federal CTO], couldn’t make a meeting at the Veterans Administration. She went and fell in love with the problem because it affected veterans and because it seemed solvable through software. The other people around the room were policy folks and didn’t know how to use software that way. She was told by her friends it’d be frustrating, but you can learn how to get things done in government. She was 28 years old when she became CTO of the VA.

Nick introduces Tim O’Reilly as “the godfather of tech.” Tim begins by denying that. “The thing I’ve done most of my career is to watch interesting people and say, ‘Wow, there’s something there!’.” “I’m kind of like a talent scout.” The person who first inspired him about gov’t is Carl Malamud. “He was the first person to put any govt agency on the Internet.” Carl went to Eric Schmidt who at the time was CTO of Sun and licensed data from the SEC. After two years Carl said he was going to shut it down unless the govt took it over. (See Public Resource.)

Then Tim saw Adrian Holovaty‘s mash up of crime data with Google Maps and said, “Wow, techies are beginning to pay attention to govt.” This inspired Tim to want to get more govt stuff into his Web 2.0 conference. He realized that government as a platform had created great value. E.g., opening up GPS. “So much of govt has been focused on, ‘We have to build it or else it won’t exist.’ … My idea was that if you open data, entrepreneuers can build on it.” Not open data for transparency so much as open data for building things. Todd Park, who was at Health & Human Services at the time, “totally got it.” When Amazon launched its Web Services, it found the people illegally hacking on its data. Tim’s company was one of them, to get book data. So Amazon brought in the hackers and built the services they need. HHS did this too. There are now hundreds or possibly thousands of apps using the HHS data.

Haley Van Dyck was on track in 2008 to move to Beijing to work for CNN on Olympics coverage. She was at a dinner where speakers talked about the need to do more for race relations in the US. Obama was running, so she went to work for him in Chicago. When they won, they were asked to connect citizens to government. She started at the FCC building the first new media team to fix their interface to the public. [Wow, they had a terrible UI. Thanks for helping to fix it, Haley!] She thanks Tim for helping to build a like-minded tech community in building. She now leads the US Digital Service.

Nick Sinai went to business school, worked for Lehman, and then pivoted to go to work for Pres. Obama, at the FCC for 1.5 yrs and in the White House for four years.

Haley: USDS is a team embedded in the White House and distributed dedicated to transform the most important citizen-facing services. It was started after the Healthcare.gov rescue effort. “Let’s bring in a couple of hyper-talented engineers” and add them to the hundreds of consultants in order to change the environment tasked with fixing the site that the President’s most important initiative rested upon. “At any moment, there were only 5-6 people working on Healthcare.gov” and they were able to fix it. The President asked that this method be used more broadly, so the USDS was founded.

The USDS theory of change is that the best way to create change is to deliver results and to do it where it’s most needed. There’s a team at the VA and a Homeland Security working on immigration services. The immigration process is currently entirely paper-based. To apply you have to send in avery long paper docket that humans then look out. It’s difficult to put this together. The paper file get sents around to immigration centers. By the end (6-9 months) it will have traveled the distance equivalent to going around the world six times. The postal costs alone are $300M/year.

A seven year long procurement for $1.2B was begun about ten years ago [I think] which resulted in a process that was even longer. The Obama administration decided to fix this. A $1.4B procurement process put it into the same hands as the first time. “We can’t build an application process the way we build battleships.” (Tim quotes Clay Shirky that the traditional waterfall sw dev process is “a commitment by everyone not to learn anything while doing the work.”) Instead, the digital team — five people — released the first sw update four months later.

Nick: Traditionally, we spend years developing the procurement. Then years writing the requirements. Then years building the system. Then in year 7 or 10 sw would actually launch. We’ll spend billion of dollars on a single sw enterprise system and then it fails because sw changes, and the requirements are wrong because no one tested them. But instead sw developers rapidly deploy, test what’s working, iterate.

Tim: There’s a real cultural change. If you’re a supplier charging the govt a billion for something that only costs a million, you don’t have incentive to shrink your profts a thousand-fold. The contractors say the project is massive like a moon landing, but Silicon Valley people look at it and say, “Actually, it’s in the range of a mid-size dating site.”

Haley: The five people on the team couldn’t have done it on their own. They worked with the contractors who were there. It’s a tight partnership.

Nick: We spend $80B/year in IT in govt, not including intelligence. (HHS has $11B budget for IT.) But we’re not getting the value.

Marina: The VA has 330,000 employees and 8,000 IT managers. It took a year and a half to get the first hire of the new team in. She had to document that she couldn’t hire through the usual pipeline…which itself took a year. She had to show the value of hiring another 75 people.

A VA example: The President was going to announce a site where you could put in the number of years of service and see how many “GI dollars” [? – couldn’t hear] you have. The contractor spent $1M building this simple page and it wouldn’t even load on the Internet. Marina asked one of the PIFs [Presidential Innovation Fellows]to look at the page. S/he called three hours later it and had fixed it.

[Audience member:] The culture, based on the annual budgets of the agencies, is more complex than you’re saying. SW companies selling to the govt have to include complexities to meet the culture and requirements. [Not sure I’m getting this.]

Marina: You change culture by celebrating vendors who do it in new ways.

Nick: The Administration has a program to educate the contracting officers across all the agencies who do the negotiations.

Marina: There are 1000+ websites at the VA and maybe a dozen IDs for each veteran. 942 toll-free numbers. So, how do you change the veteran’s experience. I could argue the need for this for 20 years, but instead we exposed it to the veterans. We didn’t close down the 1000 websites, but instead created one website that lets you get to what you need. How do we get info to the people who support veterans? To the community? The answer to our most-asked question takes 17 clicks to get to, and that answer is “Call your RO” without telling you what “RO” means (regional office) or how to call it.

The VA also built its own Electronic Health Records system many many years ago; we’re going to launch a new, open source EHR platform. And it’s building the first apps to make sure it works.

Third, the VA team is working on the appeals backlog. You have to process them in chronological order so there’s no low-hanging fruit. One of the boxes you can check is “Do you want a local hearing?” That’s very attractive to users, but it doesn’t tell them that that means a judge will be flown into their city in 2019. Giving users more info would help.

Nick: You’re engaging in user-centered design. The shift is massive. How do you hide the complexity of govt?

Tim: You should all read The UK Digital Govt Design Principles. The message is: Users first. The big difference between govt and the Valley is that in the Valley if you don’t please your customers, you’re out of business. But in govt you can go on for years getting funded. “The feedback loop is fundamentally broken.” In Silicon Valley you test, you work on it incrementally, you add new features.

Tim also recommends Jake Solomon’s “People, not Data” about food stamps in San Francisco. Why is there so much churn in the system? People apply and then drop out. One big reason: Applicants receive incomprehensible letters. “That was just the first step in debugging the system for users.” Govt administrators should be required to use this systems. (This was addressed by Code for America, which was a model for PIFs, started by Jen Pahlka (Tim’s wife.)

Haley: We’re working on a big project for the President. His advisors had a feature they really really really wanted included in the project. We were running an agile dev project, and added the feature. But in testing it turned out that the users weren’t clicking on that feature, preferring to use the search engine instead. But one of the advisors was incredibly upset that the feature he wanted wasn’t included in the launch version. We explained why. “We saw their minds just shift.” The advisor said, “You’re not building it because users don’t want it! We shouldn’t just build sw this way. We ought to build policy that way as well.'” “I left the West Wing wanting to cry [with joy].”

Tim: “If you can build something and show it works, you can change minds” about policy.

Nick: How do we turn those feedback cycles into weeks or months…?

Haley: Here’s the second half of the story. We decided to release all of the data to the partners in a private beta. It turns out that the feature the advisors wanted has been implemented by a third party as a separate standalone product.” You can achieve so much more by opening up data than by doing it all yourself.

Nick: Regulators sometimes fight innovation…

Tim: See my “Open Data and Algorithmic Regulation.” Lots of people hate regulation, but we want, for example, credit card companies to monitor usage to prevent fraud. This is a type of regulation. The credit card companies regulate in real-time and adaptively. Maybe govt regulation should look this way. The Fed does this, because we’re judged by the outcomes, not by our adherence to policy rules like “Interest rates shall be set at X.” They continuously adjust the knobs and levers. Nick Grossman has raised this recently about the debates about Uber and AirBnb. He says that they ought to open up their data to govt regulators so we can figure out the actual impact. Is Uber increasing or decreasing congestion?

Nick: What are the career paths like?

Marina: I didn’t think there was any way I could be in govt. There are many routes in.

Haley: Whitehouse.gov/USDS

Tim: codeforamerica.org

Haley: Just do it.

Tim: You can do a lot from the outside. We all have a call to public service. We need a fundamental rebirth of civic mindedness, that govt something we do together. We need govt, unlike the conservatives and Silicon Valley believe.

Haley: We don’t know how algorithic regulation works or how far it should go into the delivery of services. This is something we all need to work on.

Nick: Engineering and Design programs should be working on these sorts of issues.

Q&A

Q: Traditionally govt was not a top option for grads. Now it’s becoming more attractive. There’s more of a sense in the Valley that it’s their duty to fix things rather than just complaining.

Q: What steps are you taking beyond getting shit done to address some of the fundamental issues around procurement,agile dev, hiring quickly…?

Haley: We began with hiring. We’re done from 9 months to 4 wks to hire someone, which make us competitive with the private sector. (We use Schedule A Hiring Authority. “This is super wonky.”) The procurement process: crucial. We need to enable the right kind of companies to do the work. First, we’re working on building better buyers by bringing in technologists. In 1.5 months we’re launching an agile procurement process. We’re starting to train contracting officers with a five month course to understand how to procure digital in a way that makes sense. We’working with 18f on a pilot to reduce the barriers. We’d love to rebuild Schedule 70 .

Nick: It takes about 9 months to get on that schedule. GSA has a goal of getting this down to 21 days. There are ideas about raising the threshold for purchasing. Right now it’s an 80-90 PDF you have fill out. There’s so much friction in the system and you end up with people’s core competency is navigating the bureaucracy of the system.

Tim: As part of the new process, you’re given a data set available through a public API and you’re given a working app within a week. One of the largest IT companies couldn’t do it so they failed the agile certification process.

Nick: It’s about show, not tell.

Tim: It used to be that you had to provide a working model to get a patent. Think about all the junk sw patents. A working prototype ought to be a requirement.

Marina: And it’s not just about building apps. It’s about understanding the users and getting the incentives right.

Q: Everyone has a different definition of “agile.”

Tim: There’s always more than one way to do it, to cite the PERL slogan. There’s a family of things you can call “agile” : iterative, small pieces, feedback loops. Any version of agile is better than any version of waterfall development.

Nick: If it delivers in weeks, then I don’t care what we call it.

Q: You’re competing with Silicon Valley for people. Have you thought about offering H1 B visas for USDS?

A: That’s very interesting to us.

Q: How about the politics involved? There are forces that have spent decades dismantling in place systems that let Congressfolk know what they’re doing, etc. What are you doing to make sure that USDS is robust?

A: I’ve been surprised at how easy it’s been to identify the common causes you share whether you’re a Dem or Repub. No one wants veterans to have bad service from the VA. TBD is how the contracting community will respond. We’ve tried to be clear that this is not about taking away business from contractors. We’re not on a witch hunt against them. We want to make them more efficient. In many instances they’re delivering the systems we asked for but we got the requirements wrong.

Q: What skills should students develop to be attractive to USDS, etc.? Especially for Kennedy School students?

Marina: I hired a Kennedy School grad who’s been amazing. He has good dev skills,but more important he’s able to understand and ask questions and navigate through problems.

Haley: Show results.

Tim: It’s not about being a rockstar coder. Rather, solve user problems, and have a fundamental facility with tech that lets you say, “Oh yeah, that’s easy to do. Here’s the tool you use. The consumerization of IT means that you often don’t need to go to someone else to get something done.” “Tools like GitHub should be in your reportoire.” Young people can come into govt and help it see what things are easy so we spend money on what’s hard.

Nick: Go to a hackathon and work on some project together.

Q: As a designer and architect, how much of it is govt interacting with architects, city planners, and people who care about design? Lawyers often implement laws without regard to design.

Haley: We hire product designers, visual designers, user researchers. We’re in desperate need of more of them.

Tim: Code for America uses a lot of designers as well. And designed should be tested and iterated on as well. “It’d be awesome to have the equivalent of agile dev in city design.”

Nick: You could argue that The Constitution is a design document.

Q: I haven’t heard much from you about saving money.

Marina: I have to lead with the impact on veterans’ lives. Cost-savings is important but it isn’t enough of a driver of change. Even if we save $2B of the $80B, it barely dings the chart.

Haley: It’s an amazing secondary outcome of building better services for users. Also, cost-cutting inadvertently puts you in adversarial stance with some of the folks there. It’s easier to focus on who we are serving.

Q: What are you doing to create a sense of urgency?

Marina: We’re not going to be around forever.

Haley: We are living in a services delivery crisis. Veterans are dying because of that.

Nick: “Practice radical empathy.” You can’t just drop in as a hot shit technologist. You have to have empathy not just for veterans but for the person who’s been in this job for thirty years. You have to ask how you can make them the hero.

Tim: When immigration reform was on the table, that created urgency to get ahead of the topic so that there would’t be another healthcare.gov sort of meltdown. And people want to be remembered for doing something good. Listen to what they’re trying to accomplish and how you can help them. There’s a human element.

Q: How to bring the human voice into policy circles? USDS asked me to report on what it’s like to get an immigrant visa. They sent me to the Dominican Republic where I talked with people about their experience, and shadowed them when they went to the local immigration office while they waited for 5 hours for their 10-min interview. The deliverable was a memo to the President. Having a background in policy was helpful in writing that in a way that made user needs and experience understandable to policy makers.

Haley: It coupled the policy discussion with implementation suggests. That’s rare and can be transformative.

[What a fantastic panel. And a completely awesome set of people — more examples of what true patriotism can look like.]

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January 8, 2015

New Clues

The project with Doc that I mentioned is a new set of clues, following on The Cluetrain Manifesto from 16 years ago.

The clues are designed as an open source publishing project: The text is in the public domain, and we’re making the clues available at Github in various computer-friendly formats, including JSON, OPML and XML.

We launched this morning and a happy hell has broken loose. So I’m just going to posts some links for now. In fact, I’m copying and pasting from an email by Doc:

Gotta run…

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June 29, 2014

[aif] Government as platform

I’m at a Government as Platform session at Aspen Ideas Festival. Tim O’Reilly is moderating it with Jen Pahlka (Code for America and US Deputy Chief Technology Officer ) and Mike Bracken who heads the UK Government Digital Service.

Mike Backen begins with a short presentation. The Digital Service he heads sits at the center of govt. In 2011, they consolidated govt web sites that presented inconsistent policy explanations. The DS provides a central place that gives canonical answers. He says:

  • “Our strategy is delivery.” They created a platform for govt services: gov.uk. By having a unified platform, users know that they’re dealing with the govt. They won the Design of the Year award in 2013.

  • The DS also gives govt workers tools they can use.

  • They put measurements and analytics at the heart of what they do.

  • They are working on transforming the top 25 govt services.

They’re part of a group that saved 14.3B pounds last year.

Their vision goes back to James Brindley, who created a system of canals that transformed the economy. [Mike refers to “small pieces loosely joined.”] Also Joseph Bazalgette created the London sewers and made them beautiful.


(cc) James Pegrum

Here are five lessons that could be transferred to govt, he says:

1. Forget about the old structures. “Policy-led hierarchies make delivery impossible.” The future of govt will emerge from the places govt exists, i.e., where it is used. The drip drip drip of inadequate services undermine democracy more than does the failure of ideas.

2. Forget the old binaries. It’s not about public or private. It’s about focusing on your users.

3. No more Big IT. It’s no longer true that a big problems requires big system solutions.

4. This is a global idea. Sharing makes it stronger. New Zealand used gov.uk’s code, and gov.uk can then take advantage of their improvements.

5. It should always have a local flavour. They have the GovStack: hw, sw, apps. Anyone can use it, adapt it to their own situation, etc.

A provocation: “Govt as platform” is a fantastic idea, but when applied to govt without a public service ethos it becomes a mere buzzword. Public servants don’t “pivot.”

Jen Pahlka makes some remarks. “We need to realize that if we can’t implement our policies, we can’t govern.” She was running Code for America. She and the federal CTO, Todd Park, were visiting Mike in the UK “which was like Disneyland for a govt tech geek like me.” Todd asked her to help with the Presidential Innovation Fellows, but she replied that she really wanted to work on the sort of issues that Mike had been addressing. Fix publishing. Fix transactions. Go wholesale.

“We have 30-40,000 federal web sites,” she says. Tim adds, “Some of them have zero users.”

Todd wanted to make the data available so people could build services, but the iPhone ships with apps already in place. A platform without services is unlikely to take off. “We think $172B is being spent on govt IT in this country, including all levels.” Yet people aren’t feeling like they’re getting the services they need.

E.g., if we get immigration reform, there are lots of systems that would have to scale.

Tim: Mike, you have top-level support. You report directly to a cabinet member. You also have a native delivery system — you can shut down failed services, which is much harder in the US.

Mike: I asked for very little money — 50M pounds — a building, and the ability to hire who we want. People want to work on stuff that matters with stellar people. We tried to figure out what are the most important services. We asked people in a structured way which was more important, a drivers license or fishing license? Drivers license or passport? This gave us important data. And ?e retired about 40% of govt content. There was content that no one ever read. There’s never any feedback.

Tim: You have to be actually measuring things.

Jen: There are lots of boxes you have to check, but none of them are “Is it up? Do people like it?”

Mike: Govts think of themselves as big. But digital govt isn’t that big. Twelve people could make a good health care service. Govt needs to get over itself. Most of what govt does digitally is about the size of the average dating site. The site doesn’t have to get big for the usage of it to scale.

Jen: Steven Levy wrote recently about how the Health Care site got built. [Great article -dw] It was a small team. Also, at Code for America, we’ve seen that the experience middle class people had with HealthCare.gov is what poor people experience every day. [my emphasis – such an important point!]

Tim: Tell us about Code for America’s work in SF on food stamps.

Jen: We get folks from the tech world to work on civic projects. Last year they worked on the California food stamps program. One of our fellows enrolled in the program. Two months later, he got dropped off the roles. This happens frequently. Then you have to re-enroll, which is expensive. People get dropped because they get letters from the program that are incomprehensible. Our fellows couldn’t understand the language. And the Fellows weren’t allowed to change the language in the letter. So now people get text messages if there’s a problem with their account, expressed in simple clear language.

Q&A

Q: You’ve talked about services, but not about opening up data. Are UK policies changing about open data?

Mike: We’ve opened up a lot of data, but that’s just the first step. You don’t just open it up and expect great things to open. A couple of problems: We don’t have a good grip on our data. It’s not consistent, it lives in macros and spreadsheets, and contractually it’s often in the hands of the people giving the service. Recently we wanted to added an organ donation checkbox and six words on the drivers license online page. We were told it would cost $50K and take 100 days. It took us about 15 mins. But the data itself isn’t the stimulus for new services.

Q: How can we avoid this in the future?

Mike: One thing: Require the govt ministers to use the services.

Jen: People were watching HealthCare.gov but were asking the wrong questions. And the environment is very hierarchical. We have to change the conversation from tellling people what to do, to “Here’s what we think is going to work, can you try it?” We have to put policy people and geeks in conversation so they can say, no that isn’t going to work.

Q: The social security site worked well, except when I tried to change my address. It should be as easy as Yahoo. Is there any plan for post offices or voting?

Mike: In the UK, the post offices were spun out. And we just created a register-to-vote service. It took 20 people.

Q: Can you talk about the online to offline impact on public service, and measuring performance, and how this will affect govt? Where does the transformation start?

Jen: It starts with delivery. You deliver services and you’re a long way there. That’s what Code for America has done: show up and build something. In terms of the power dynamics, that’s hard to change. CGI [the contractor that “did” HealthCare.gov] called Mike’s Govt Digital Service “an impediment to innovation,” which I found laughable.

Tim: You make small advances, and get your foot in the door and it starts to spread.

Mike: I have a massive poster in my office: “Show the thing.” If you can’t create version of what you want to build, even just html pages, then your project shouldn’t go forward.

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November 15, 2013

[liveblog] Noam Chomsky and Bart Gellman at Engaging Data

I’m at the Engaging Data 2013conference where Noam Chomsky and Pulitzer Prize winner (twice!) Barton Gellman are going to talk about Big Data in the Snowden Age, moderated by Ludwig Siegele of the Economist. (Gellman is one of the three people Snowden vouchsafed his documents with.) The conference aims at having us rethink how we use Big Data and how it’s used.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

LS: Prof. Chomsky, what’s your next book about?

NC: Philosophy of mind and language. I’ve been writing articles that are pretty skeptical about Big Data. [Please read the orange disclaimer: I’m paraphrasing and making errors of every sort.]

LS: You’ve said that Big Data is for people who want to do the easy stuff. But shouldn’t you be thrilled as a linguist?

NC: When I got to MIT at 1955, I was hired to work on a machine translation program. But I refused to work on it. “The only way to deal with machine translation at the current stage of understanding was by brute force, which after 30-40 years is how it’s being done.” A principled understanding based on human cognition is far off. Machine translation is useful but you learn precisely nothing about human thought, cognition, language, anything else from it. I use the Internet. Glad to have it. It’s easier to push some buttons on your desk than to walk across the street to use the library. But the transition from no libraries to libraries was vastly greater than the transition from librarites to Internet. [Cool idea and great phrase! But I think I disagree. It depends.] We can find lots of data; the problem is understanding it. And a lot of data around us go through a filter so it doesn’t reach us. E.g., the foreign press reports that Wikileaks released a chapter about the secret TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership). It was front page news in Australia and Europe. You can learn about it on the Net but it’s not news. The chapter was on Intellectual Property rights, which means higher prices for less access to pharmaceuticals, and rams through what SOPA tried to do, restricting use of the Net and access to data.

LS: For you Big Data is useless?

NC: Big data is very useful. If you want to find out about biology, e.g. But why no news about TPP? As Sam Huntington said, power remains strongest in the dark. [approximate] We should be aware of the long history of surveillance.

LS: Bart, as a journalist what do you make of Big Data?

BG: It’s extraordinarily valuable, especially in combination with shoe-leather, person-to-person reporting. E.g., a colleague used traditional reporting skills to get the entire data set of applicants for presidential pardons. Took a sample. More reporting. Used standard analytics techniques to find that white people are 4x more likely to get pardons, that campaign contributors are also more likely. It would be likely in urban planning [which is Senseable City Labs’ remit]. But all this leads to more surveillance. E.g., I could make the case that if I had full data about everyone’s calls, I could do some significant reporting, but that wouldn’t justify it. We’ve failed to have the debate we need because of the claim of secrecy by the institutions in power. We become more transparent to the gov’t and to commercial entities while they become more opaque to us.

LS: Does the availability of Big Data and the Internet automatically mean we’ll get surveillance? Were you surprised by the Snowden revelations>

NC: I was surprised at the scale, but it’s been going on for 100 years. We need to read history. E.g., the counter-insurgency “pacification” of the Philippines by the US. See the book by McCoy [maybe this. The operation used the most sophisticated tech at the time to get info about the population to control and undermine them. That tech was immediately used by the US and Britain to control their own populations, .g., Woodrow Wilson’s Red Scare. Any system of power — the state, Google, Amazon — will use the best available tech to control, dominate, and maximize their power. And they’ll want to do it in secret. Assange, Snowden and Manning, and Ellsberg before them, are doing the duty of citizens.

BG: I’m surprised how far you can get into this discussion without assuming bad faith on the part of the government. For the most part what’s happening is that these security institutions genuinely believe most of the time that what they’re doing is protecting us from big threats that we don’t understand. The opposition comes when they don’t want you to know what they’re doing because they’re afraid you’d call it off if you knew. Keith Alexander said that he wishes that he could bring all Americans into this huddle, but then all the bad guys would know. True, but he’s also worried that we won’t like the plays he’s calling.

LS: Bruce Schneier says that the NSA is copying what Google and Yahoo, etc. are doing. If the tech leads to snooping, what can we do about it?

NC: Govts have been doing this for a century, using the best tech they had. I’m sure Gen. Alexander believes what he’s saying, but if you interviewed the Stasi, they would have said the same thing. Russian archives show that these monstrous thugs were talking very passionately to one another about defending democracy in Eastern Europe from the fascist threat coming from the West. Forty years ago, RAND released Japanese docs about the invasion of China, showing that the Japanese had heavenly intentions. They believed everything they were saying. I believe these are universals. We’d probably find it for Genghis Khan as well. I have yet to find any system of power that thought it was doing the wrong thing. They justify what they’re doing for the noblest of objectives, and they believe it. The CEOs of corporations as well. People find ways of justifying things. That’s why you should be extremely cautious when you hear an appeal to security. It literally carries no information, even in the technical sense: it’s completely predictable and thus carries no info. I don’t doubt that the US security folks believe it, but it is without meaning. The Nazis had their own internal justifications.

BG: The capacity to rationalize may be universal, but you’ll take the conversation off track if you compare what’s happening here to the Stasi. The Stasi were blackmailing people, jailing them, preventing dissent. As a journalist I’d be very happy to find that our govt is spying on NGOs or using this power for corrupt self-enriching purposes.

NC: I completely agree with that, but that’s not the point: The same appeal is made in the most monstrous of circumstances. The freedom we’ve won sharply restricts state power to control and dominate, but they’ll do whatever they can, and they’ll use the same appeals that monstrous systems do.

LS: Aren’t we all complicit? We use the same tech. E.g., Prof. Chomsky, you’re the father of natural language processing, which is used by the NSA.

NC: We’re more complicit because we let them do it. In this country we’re very free, so we have more responsibility to try to control our govt. If we do not expose the plea of security and separate out the parts that might be valid from the vast amount that’s not valid, then we’re complicit because we have the oppty and the freedom.

LS: Does it bug you that the NSA uses your research?

NC: To some extent, but you can’t control that. Systems of power will use whatever is available to them. E.g., they use the Internet, much of which was developed right here at MIT by scientists who wanted to communicate freely. You can’t prevent the powers from using it for bad goals.

BG: Yes, if you use a free online service, you’re the product. But if you use a for-pay service, you’re still the product. My phone tracks me and my social network. I’m paying Verizon about $1,000/year for the service, and VZ is now collecting and selling my info. The NSA couldn’t do its job as well if the commercial entities weren’t collecting and selling personal data. The NSA has been tapping into the links between their data centers. Google is racing to fix this, but a cynical way of putting this is that Google is saying “No one gets to spy on our customers except us.”

LS: Is there a way to solve this?

BG: I have great faith that transparency will enable the development of good policy. The more we know, the more we can design policies to keep power in place. Before this, you couldn’t shop for privacy. Now a free market for privacy is developing as the providers now are telling us more about what they’re doing. Transparency allows legislation and regulation to be debated. The House Repubs came within 8 votes of prohibiting call data collection, which would have been unthinkable before Snowden. And there’s hope in the judiciary.

NC: We can do much more than transparency. We can make use of the available info to prevent surveillance. E.g., we can demand the defeat of TPP. And now hardware in computers is being designed to detect your every keystroke, leading some Americans to be wary of Chinese-made computers, but the US manufacturers are probably doing it better. And manufacturers for years have been trying to dsign fly-sized drones to collect info; that’ll be around soon. Drones are a perfect device for terrorists. We can learn about this and do something about it. We don’t have to wait until it’s exposed by Wikileaks. It’s right there in mainstream journals.

LS: Are you calling for a political movement?

NC: Yes. We’re going to need mass action.

BG: A few months ago I noticed a small gray box with an EPA logo on it outside my apartment in NYC. It monitors energy usage, useful to preventing brown outs. But it measures down to the apartment level, which could be useful to the police trying to establish your personal patterns. There’s no legislation or judicial review of the use of this data. We can’t turn back the clock. We can try to draw boundaries, and then have sufficient openness so that we can tell if they’ve crossed those boundaries.

LS: Bart, how do you manage the flow of info from Snowden?

BG: Snowden does not manage the release of the data. He gave it to three journalists and asked us to use your best judgment — he asked us to correct for his bias about what the most important stories are — and to avoid direct damage to security. The documents are difficult. They’re often incomplete and can be hard to interpret.

Q&A

Q: What would be a first step in forming a popular movement?

NC: Same as always. E.g., the women’s movement began in the 1960s (at least in the modern movement) with consciousness-raising groups.

Q: Where do we draw the line between transparency and privacy, given that we have real enemies?

BG: First you have to acknowledge that there is a line. There are dangerous people who want to do dangerous things, and some of these tools are helpful in preventing that. I’ve been looking for stories that elucidate big policy decisions without giving away specifics that would harm legitimate action.

Q: Have you changed the tools you use?

BG: Yes. I keep notes encrypted. I’ve learn to use the tools for anonymous communication. But I can’t go off the grid and be a journalist, so I’ve accepted certain trade-offs. I’m working much less efficiently than I used to. E.g., I sometimes use computers that have never touched the Net.

Q: In the women’s movement, at least 50% of the population stood to benefit. But probably a large majority of today’s population would exchange their freedom for convenience.

NC: The trade-off is presented as being for security. But if you read the documents, the security issue is how to keep the govt secure from its citizens. E.g., Ellsberg kept a volume of the Pentagon Papers secret to avoid affecting the Vietnam negotiations, although I thought the volume really only would have embarrassed the govt. Security is in fact not a high priority for govts. The US govt is now involved in the greatest global terrorist campaign that has ever been carried out: the drone campaign. Large regions of the world are now being terrorized. If you don’t know if the guy across the street is about to be blown away, along with everyone around, you’re terrorized. Every time you kill an Al Qaeda terrorist, you create 40 more. It’s just not a concern to the govt. In 1950, the US had incomparable security; there was only one potential threat: the creation of ICBM’s with nuclear warheads. We could have entered into a treaty with Russia to ban them. See McGeorge Bundy’s history. It says that he was unable to find a single paper, even a draft, suggesting that we do something to try to ban this threat of total instantaneous destruction. E.g., Reagan tested Russian nuclear defenses that could have led to horrible consequences. Those are the real security threats. And it’s true not just of the United States.

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July 13, 2013

Presidential Innovation Fellows

Yesterday I got to spend the afternoon with friends from the Department of State’s eDiplomacy group and people from the General Services Administration. I was leading a whiteboarding session for a project — a task marketplace — they have underway. The project development work is being done primarily by two Presidential Innovation FellowsJoe Polastre and Dain Miller — which made clear to me just how cool that program is.

The official description is:

The Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program pairs top innovators from the private sector, non-profits, and academia with top innovators in government to collaborate during focused 6-13 month “tours of duty” to develop solutions that can save lives, save taxpayer money, and fuel job creation.

There are 30+ Fellows, whose terms run from 6-13 months, working on projects [github] that benefit the country.

I like everything about this program. I like that it enables development of useful software. I like that it announces the White House’s recognition of the importance of tech innovation. I like that it gets geeks into various branches of the government. I like that it gives some incredible developers real-world experience with the federal government — the admirable people who work there, as well as the constraints they work within.

The one thing I don’t like is the acronym. Pfft.

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October 10, 2012

Obama and Romney make their cases to techies. Guess who fails to mention the Internet?

New York Tech Meetup asked the Obama and Romney camps to write letters explaining how their policies would help the NY tech community. NYTM has just posted their replies.


Without the prefatory comments, you’d be hard-pressed to tell that Romney’s letter is about tech policy. Not only does Romney miss any mention of Internet or its synonyms, he fails to reiterate his opposition to Net Neutrality.


Obama on the other hand lays out his policies and accomplishments, starting with creating a federal CTO on his first day in office, opening up government data (at data.gov and elsewhere), creating Presidential Innovation Fellows, and protecting the open Internet.


(PS: I’ve posted the link to the letters at Reddit. Feel free to upvote…)



Related to this, the Australian radio show has posted an episode on whether the Obama administration has fulfilled the promise of Government 2.0. It interviews Ethan Zuckerman, Micah Sifry, Michael Turk, Bill Adair, and me.

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