Month: April 2014

Seven habits of a highly effective FCC

Federal Communications CommissionFederal Communications Commission Chief Information Officer David Bray has outlined a new technology modernization strategy that includes teleworking, cloud-based collaborations, access to open data, an “open source by default” policy and more transparency into agency operations.

Bray highlighted seven areas of focus on the FCC blog:

  • Improve Secure Employee Telework & Mobility
  • Secure Internal & External Collaborations
  • Strengthen FCC’s IT Security Posture
  • Transform Access to FCC Enterprise Data
  • Modernize Legacy Systems & Tracking
  • Improve FCC.gov & Complaint Reform
  • Increase Transparency & System Usability

“Like an iceberg where a majority of the ice is hidden underwater, modernizing manual, human-intensive processes at the FCC will reduce legacy ‘sunk costs’ at the Commission,” writes Bray. “The result will be a more agile, responsive, IT-enabled FCC enterprise able to work faster and float ‘above water’. Our workforce will be more effective, efficient in their time and energy, and better able to deliver the highest quality public service to the U.S. public and FCC partners.”

Read the full post.

Calling .gov startups: apply for the 2014 Code for America accelerator

Photo: Ryan Resella / <a href="codeforamerica.org">Code for America</a>

Photo: Ryan Resella / Code for America

Code for America is now accepting applications for its 2014 Civic Startup Accelerator program.

The program lasts four months and includes, according to CfA, training, mentorship, network, publicity, in-kind services, support and $25,000 in funding. Participating startups are expected to convene at CfA’s San Francisco headquarters one week a month from July to October.

“Think about joining us as we work to catalyze the civic technology ecosystem — and to create a government by the people, for the people that works in the 21st century,” said Accelerator Manager Dharmishta Rood announcing the new round.

Application deadline is May 15. For questions, see the FAQs and apply here.

Harvard offers $100K government innovation award

Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation will award $100,000 for government public engagement and participation.

The Award for Public Engagement in Government is a new component to the center’s standing Innovations in American Government Awards program.

From the official announcement:

The Award for Public Engagement in Government will highlight government programs, policies, and initiatives aimed at encouraging public participation in a range of budgetary, regulatory, and policy decisions. The center also intends to recognize those efforts that successfully employ digital technology and crowdsourcing techniques to broaden public involvement in government decision-making and drive problem-solving.

Apply online at innovationsaward.harvard.edu. Deadline is June 20, 2014.

NASA re-launches open innovation efforts

Photo: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Photo: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

NASA Deputy Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer for Information Technology Deborah Diaz introduced a new open innovation team via a rebooted open.nasa.gov.

Diaz said NASA’s Innovation and Technology Division will focus on four areas: innovation and digital services; data management and services; enterprise architecture; and emerging technology.

The agency will release NASA’s Open Government Plan Version 3.0 “in the next few weeks,” Diaz said.

In February, former open innovation lead Nick Skytland penned what appeared to be the end of NASA’s efforts on this front, which began in 2007.

“The first chapter of this experiment concluded in 2013, but we hope that the principles of Open Government we held dear continue to live on at NASA and within the federal government for many more years to come,” wrote Skytland.

NIST releases open source mobile app test tool

AppVet (Image: NIST)

AppVet (Image: NIST)

There’s now an AppVet for that.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has released an open source tool, AppVet, that makes it easier for agencies to test mobile applications security and reliability.

From the official press release:

The application manages app vetting workflow that involves submitting apps to testing tools—for virus-detection and reliability, for example—receiving reports and risk assessments from tools, and combining risk assessments from these tools into a single risk assessment. Human analysts from the organization review the reports and risk assessments and decide whether to approve or reject the app according the organization’s requirements.

AppVet does not do any testing itself, it manages third-party test programs. One advantage of AppVet is that it provides specifications, Applications Programming Interfaces, and requirements that facilitate easy integration with third-party test tools as well as clients, including app stores. For example, AppVet defines a simple API and requirements for submitting apps to, and receiving reports from, third-party test tools.

AppVet spawned from NIST’s work with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that focused on providing app assurance testing prior to military field use.

Education Department wants your ideas on open data, APIs

Photo: U.S. Department of Education

Photo: U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education has published a request for information asking for public feedback on how the agency can innovate with open data, particularly application programming interfaces.

“The Department wants to make sure to do this right,” writes Education Department Senior Policy Advisor David Soo on the agency’s blog announcing the RFI. “It must ensure the security and privacy of the data it collects or maintains, especially when the information of students and families is involved. Openness only works if privacy and security issues are fully considered and addressed. We encourage the field to provide comments that identify concerns and offer suggestions on ways to ensure privacy, safeguard student information, and maintain access to federal resources at no cost to the student.”

From the RFI:

This RFI seeks to explore potential ways in which the Department can expand on its successful efforts to increase and enhance access to information on higher education already published on the Department’s Web site, including through IPEDS, EDFacts, and other National Center for Education Statistics surveys related to higher education; data held by the Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA); and data available elsewhere in the Department that focuses on higher education. The Department also seeks feedback on options for read-only and read-write APIs that could increase access to and use of benefits, forms, and processes offered for programs authorized under title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA), including in the submission of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); enrollment in Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) programs; enrollment in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program; participation in processes offered by title IV aid servicers in repaying Federal student loans; and use of loan counseling and financial literacy and awareness tools.

See the full RFI and submit feedback to APIRFI@ed.gov by June 2.

‘Open Data Now’ author Joel Gurin on how businesses and government are building the data economy

Joel Gurin

Photo courtesy of Joel Gurin

What compelled you to write this book?

My interest in the public uses of data goes way back. For over a decade I was the editorial director and then executive vice president of Consumer Reports, where we developed our own expert data to help consumers make important decisions. Then a few years ago I went to the Federal Communications Commission as chief of the consumer bureau, where we tried to figure out how to use data about cellphone plans to improve consumer choice. That work led to my chairing the White House Task Force on Smart Disclosure – the term we used for releasing data to help consumer decision-making – and that, in turn, got me interested in open data more broadly.

As I started talking to dozens of people in government, business and nonprofits, I realized that we’re in the middle of an open data revolution that’s starting to change our society.

The heart of it is the open government data that’s now being released in increasingly valuable ways. I wrote Open Data Now to document this new open data movement, show how it’s creating new business opportunities, and encourage government agencies to make even more government data available.

What is the Open Data 500 study and why is it important?

The Open Data 500 study – which I’m leading at the GovLab at NYU, where I am senior advisor – is the first comprehensive study of companies that use open government data as a key business resource. We set out last fall to see whether we could find 500 of these companies, far more than anyone had documented before. We found them and we researched them – 190 filled out the surveys we sent them, and we learned about the rest from public sources.

We’ve found a tremendous diversity of companies in 15 different categories (such as healthcare, finance and energy), operating all over the country, using different revenue models and different kinds of government data. Perhaps most important, we’ve been able to map the connections between government agencies and the companies that use their data. If you explore the Open Data Compass on the home page of OpenData500.com, you’ll see what we’ve learned. Our next step is to use this understanding to help government agencies and businesses work together to use data more effectively.

What are the key challenges to getting data open?

Government officials have compared the state of federal data to that last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark – it’s like a warehouse filled with unlabeled crates that contain treasure somewhere, but nobody knows where. That may be an overstatement, but it’s not far off. A lot of data is trapped in legacy systems – there are an  estimated 10,000 data systems in the federal government – that are hard to use and are not interoperable with each other. The Obama administration’s Open Data Policy requires agencies to make almost all their data open and machine-readable, but that’s a very tall order.

At the GovLab, we think we can help by building on the results of the Open Data 500 study. The key is prioritization. Rather than trying to open up all the data at once, what if we identify the 10 percent of an agency’s datasets that may hold 90 percent of the public value and make those really usable first? The GovLab is now planning to convene and facilitate a series of Open Data Roundtables that will bring companies to the table with the agencies that provide their data. We want to help them work together so they can figure out the best Open Data strategies. The Department of Commerce has been especially enthusiastic and will help us plan the first Roundtable; Labor, Transportation, Treasury and the USDA have also committed to participate in the future.

Who’s doing open data right?

The Department of Commerce does seem to be a leader here; their data from NOAA and Census is especially widely used. More companies in our study use data from Commerce than from any other federal department, and Commerce is the only one that serves companies in all 15 categories we studied. Health and Human services was an early Open Data leader and keeps releasing datasets with high impact, like the new data that names and sometimes shames individual Medicare providers. Other departments and agencies, like the ones who have signed on for our Roundtables, are also doing increasingly exciting open data work.

You highlight great examples of how open data has fostered new business models and empowered economic growth. What are some of your favorite examples that highlight this?

Everyone talks about the Climate Corporation, which was just sold to Monsanto for about a billion dollars. I’ve been following them for over a year, and was lucky to interview their CEO, David Friedberg, for my book and my website OpenDataNow.com; you can read the interview in print or online and hear a podcast of it on my website as well. But it’s not just the big companies like this that are proving the economic value of open data. After all, we’ve just published information on 499 more of them.

If I had to choose, I’d highlight the companies that are using open data not just to build their business, but to provide a social benefit. I think it’s something about the nature of open data, but I’ve noticed that a lot of open data companies are doing well by doing good. We have healthcare companies that are helping people find better post-hospital care and better, affordable healthcare overall. Energy-focused companies are using open data to reduce energy use and carbon emissions, while consumer shopping applications help people choose products with a low carbon footprint. Financial websites and apps, powered by open data, help consumers protect their credit ratings and help small businesses get loans more easily. In education, new startups are helping college-bound students figure out how to get the most return for the money they’ll spend on education.

When we talk about the economic benefit of open data, we have to remember the social benefit as well. The good news is that the two are closely connected – and we can expect to see a lot more companies that will generate value on many levels.

FCC CIO David Bray on social media, open source, agile development and more

David Bray

Federal Communications Commission Chief Information Officer David Bray participated in our first GitChat, an open Q&A with civic innovators, that leverages GitHub as a discussion platform.

Bray discussed extensively on topics ranging from social media, open data and open source, agile development, IT procurement and more.

Here are key excerpts of the conversation.

On how C-level government executives can leverage social media:

“Pick a few channels to invest in, learn from, and monitor. You don’t have to be everywhere (because your hours are limited) but you do have to be open to inputs and ideas from the public and other partner organizations. Social media is much more than “broadcast” — it is being #open2ideas and #learning&listening from folks … I find I learn a lot from hearing from the views of others, and then have a chance to also share some of the day-to-day challenges facing us in modernizing IT within an existing organization.”

On why gov CIOs aren’t more social:

“Good question — it might be a combination of concerns about ensuring the agency’s message is consistent and uniform. There’s also a lot of pressure right now on public service folks to not take too many risks, because there does seem to be an element that is quick to point out those who take risks and have them not always work out as planned.

I also think there’s a huge pressure on the time commitments for CIO. More of them might be more social if they felt like they had a supportive environment and that them taking the time to do it was valued by their agency leadership.”

On personal vs. public social media usage and voice:

“personally I feel like as a public servant, I have a responsibility to recognize I’m always serving the public and thus under the public view. The role of a public servant requires that we aspire to be available to the public and operate with (1) benevolence, (2) competence, and (3) integrity.

I try to embody these three things wherever I go. What I do and say in-person is the same I would do and say online.

As for content – I do think I have a responsibility to recognize that an in-person context conveys tone of voice, emotion, facial expressions, and eye contact. Online takes that a way so the opportunity for misunderstanding increases.

Also if a question is asked that isn’t in my area of responsibility, I’ll defer and say I’m not the one who can best answer that question for you. Or if it is a case where someone on my team is the better expert than I, I’ll also defer to that individual – as I firmly believe any Agency leader should #empower-your-coders”

On the challenges of being a federal CIO:

“So being a CIO in the public sector requires you to be a “digital diplomat” internally and externally on these challenges and the need to change cultures plus reward mechanisms. It also requires you to be a “human flak jacket” as you work to address these challenges, work horizontally, change cultures, and reward mechanism. Sometimes being that flak jacket means taking metaphorical bullets from all angles.”

On attracting talent:

“I’m working on my end to ensure our HR processes are chugging as best and as fast as they can, and our Procurement processes are also chugging as best and as fast as they can. We’ve 18 months to do something great that’s never been done before, so now is the time to make it happen.

If there are altruistic, dedicated folks who want a reverse IPO = OPI = Opportunity for Positive Impact @FCC … we’re your place, and we’re actively looking for great, proven #Rockstar talent to enable this transformation to happen.”

On open data:

“Some of our data could be made more open in a better fashion, or in some cases a better draw. So as we modernize our systems, we will be planning and implementing both thin UIs as well as APIs to make the data more open to the public and partner organizations. The vision is the FCC is a trusted broker of data in and out appropriately, so that others can remix and analyze the data that we share in new ways.

@GigiBSohnFCC is here and a great advocate for #opendata which I 100% support. Also part of our on-going strategy will be regular engagement with the public and our partners on what data would be most valuable for us to focus our energies first, and go from there. The FCC Chairman’s Process Reform just sought public comment on elements of this and that will help inform what we focus on as top priorities: http://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-seeks-public-comment-report-process-reform”

On open source:

“In general, public service should use existing code — ideally open source code — if what the code provides fits their needs.

If public service is developing code, I generally would like to recommend the code be open source unless there is sufficient legal or mission integrity reason to not make it so.”

On the role of data officers:

“It is also why you’ll note the FCC Information and Data Officers are just that — Information and Data Officers, as separate tracks doesn’t make a lot of sense since the data is in information systems. Plus, since access to the data is tied to modernizing our legacy systems, you will see we have a FCC Chief Enterprise Architect — a new position since my arrival — since frankly the FCC was lacking an enterprise view to either its information systems or its data.

The FCC Chief Enterprise Architect has a Lead for Enterprise Information and Data Integration which is serving as what you might call a CDO, however we opted to call this role that because it emphasizes what we need to do to get the data in a usable form: Enterprise Information and Data Integration.”

On the new 18F:

“I am watching the news reports and want to remain optimistic, however my observation is 18F has not does a great job communicating to other government agencies what they’re doing. In fact, it appears to have been fairly secretive, which seems curious and somewhat odd for an era of increased transparency and open endeavors? Maybe an approach that includes going to other agency CIOs and asked what the big issues you need fixed are, and having that dialogue with other #PublicService CIOs help inform the issues — would be a great one?

To be honest other agency CIOs & I have commented that we hear more about 18F from outside news reporting than inside the public sector itself — that may need to be fixed? :-) Also, naming your endeavor after your street address seems curious in an age where the internet means great #PublicService does not need to be location-based seems puzzling?”

On agile development:

“The good news is FCC has been doing agile and lean since my arrival. We’ve had at least 4 different FCC-wide training sessions on agile, through our IT contractors to both IT staff and programmatic stewards (the folks who the mission-centric systems are being built for) on agile, as the process needs to involve them in tandem, working together. Another reason why I believe you can’t abstract too much from the programmatic stewards and succeed with IT. It’s why I’m encouraging Intrapreneurs — entrepreneurs on the inside — at FCC.”

On IT procurement:

“Lastly, if I was to urge where to place attention and energy, it would be on educating Procurement shops — and the General Counsels of agencies that provide legal guidance on what can and cannot be procured — as to what’s possible. If you want people to take risks, be lean, be agile, and do great stuff taking these steps to #empower-the-edge and #empower-your-coders are great first steps!”

Read the full discussion.

GitHub and the C-suite social

GitHubIn the early days of Twitter, it was easy and common to dismiss the infant social network as a simplistic tool that served a whimsical and nerdy niche.

Today, Twitter has gone from the technorati tweeting hipster conference minutiae to a platform driving the new world digital order. This didn’t happen overnight. But, when the flock of civic technologists set flight, the social government migration happened quickly and collectively.

Much like we pooh-poohed Twitter in those early days, GitHub, in its early crawl, is today dismissed simply as a tool for the diehard developer. However, as with any tool with great potential, innovators find new ways to leverage emerging technology to communicate, and government chief information and technology officers can effectively do this with GitHub.

There’s the obvious use case, such as contributing code and commenting on projects, much like Veterans Affairs Chief Technology Officer Marina Martin does via her GitHub account. It’s probably asking a lot for the C-suite to dive deep into code on a daily basis, there are other, more conversational ways GitHub can be leveraged.

Case in point, a few weeks ago, Federal Communications Commission Chief Information Officer David Bray and I had a Twitter exchange about the utility of GitHub. Immediately, I created a repository (think “folder”) on my personal account, and set up a new “What questions do you have for FCC CIO David Bray?” issue (think “discussion”).

To Bray’s credit, and perhaps surprise of his public affairs office, he humored me by immediately joining GitHub, posting replies to a number of questions about FCC open data, open source, cloud hosting and web operations. Over the course of an hour, there was a genuine, real-time conversation between a federal CIO and the community at large.

Despite wide adoption of social tools by public sector innovators, most of the C-suite remains decidedly analog in terms of engagement and sharing of relevant information about the inner workings of our public sector institutions. A cursory survey of government chief information and technology officers shows they abstain altogether or, when they do, generally give random personal updates or staid posts with a heavily-sanitized public affairs filter.

The emergence of GitHub may change this for the government technologist, especially those willing to engage fellow coders and citizens on projects in an open, fluid environment.

Former Presidential Innovation Fellow and current GitHub government lead Ben Balter has since followed suit and created a government-focused “Ask Me (Almost) Anything” repo featuring Q&As with Philadelphia Chief Data Officer Mark Headd and staff from the newly-minted 18F.

GitHub’s repo and issues features are natural communication tools for C-level technologists who fancy themselves innovators leveraging emerging tech in new, creative ways.

For the IT C-suite, the GitChat is the new Twitter Townhall, a way to instantly and directly connect with peers and the general public and be asked anything.

Well, almost anything.