Clay Johnson

Reinventing government procurement

Reinventors is hosting a live, online government procurement roundtable with key nonprofit, business and media leaders on Thursday, July 31, 2014, at 11:00 a.m. PT.

The discussion is part of “Reinvent America: Our Technology Foundation Series” led by Reinventors founder Peter Leyden.

Topic:

”How can we make the way government buys technology compatible with the way good technology is now built – yet ensure the process is fair and people are accountable?”

Panelists:

Sign up and watch here.

More about the Reinvent America series:

With Screendoor, DOBT makes simple web forms key to better government

Screendoor

Image: DOBT

After Adam Becker and Clay Johnson completed their stints as White House Presidential Innovation Fellows working together on Project RFP-EZ, they were inspired to scale IT simplicity so that governments everywhere would no longer have to deal with traditional mediocre software solutions most legacy vendors provide.

That inspiration culminated into Department of Better Technology, a startup focused simply on building “great software for government.”

DOBT recently deployed its first product, Screendoor, aimed at making it easier for governments to create online forms to better manage incoming data and engage with citizens.

Becker shares some insights into the mission behind DOBT, Screendoor and why it’s so important for government.

What’s the background and inspiration for starting DOBT?

DOBT was born from Clay’s and my experience as Presidential Innovation Fellows. We had both worked on “civic technology” before, but neither of us had worked inside of government, and when we saw first-hand the terrible software that our governments run on, we basically said to each other, “we’ve gotta figure out a way to work on this.”

There’s obviously a few different routes you can take, but we felt that we’d be the most effective if we started a company like DOBT, where our software can be used by all government agencies, big and small.

Why focus on Screendoor as your first product?

We cover this in a bit in these two blog posts.

Basically, the civic technology community has been mostly focused on engagement, and thinking about things from the perspective of the citizen. It turns out that the root of this problem, that people don’t want to engage with their government, is that the current experience of engaging with government sucks.

Most people interact with their government through the interface of a form, and a really ugly one. It often involves printing, signing, faxing and waiting. And once that form is submitted to a government agency, it’s no easier on their end to manage those incoming responses.

Our reason for focusing on Screendoor is really two-fold:

  1. We can help government agencies create a better experience for the citizens they serve
  2. We can save time and money for those agencies by making their review process more efficient, and helping organize their data

What are Screendoor’s key features?

Frontend

We start with all of the basic “form builder” features, similar to what you’d find inside of Wufoo or Google Forms. You can add text fields, checkboxes, file inputs, etc. For users responding to forms, we automatically save their drafts, which is nice when you’ve got a long government form that you’d like to work on over multiple sittings.

Backend

The backend “review interface” is where Screendoor really shines. We offer a bunch of ways to manage your incoming responses:

  • You can assign custom rating fields (like a star-rating, or 1-10 number range) and collaboratively rank responses. We’ll total up the averages automatically.
  • You can add statuses and labels to create a custom workflow. For example, we run our hiring process through Screendoor, and applicants flow through “Incoming,” “Interviewing,” “Offer made,” and “Hired” statuses.
  • You can send batch messages to subsets of your responders, automatically merging in variables from their response. Imagine you’re running an apps contest, and have just moved the winning entries to a “Won” status. Screendoor lets you easily send a personalized message to each entrant, letting them know that they’ve won your contest.

What plans do you have for the future?

We’re focused on making Screendoor more robust, easier to use, and useful for even more use cases, and we hope that by doing these things, it’ll also help us get it into the hands of more and more government agencies.

Oh, and it’s not the most exciting thing by far, but we’re looking forward to meeting more and more security & compliance regulations. It sounds boring, but it’s something that can prevent certain folks inside government from taking advantage of an app like Screendoor.

Darrell Issa may have just lost the open government vote

Todd Park (Photo: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Chris Smith)

Todd Park (Photo: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Chris Smith)

With a single subpoena to one of the most admired public servants in America, Congressman Darrell Issa has managed to rankle the ire of open government leaders and alienate a key constituency in a movement he co-founded his own organization around.

The subpoena is in response to the White House’s refusal to allow U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park to testify before the House Oversight Committee related to technical issues that continue to plague a reliable launch of healthcare.gov.

A group of Park supporters have rallied behind him and created a website, “Let Todd Work,” where citizens can pledge their support.

“Mr. Park is a fantastic civil servant, who cares about making government more effective and accountable, just like Mr. Issa,” states the petition. “We hope that they can work together on solving the policies that enabled healthcare.gov to fail in the first place, by working with the Senate for passage of Issa’s own bill, the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act.”

FITARA is Issa’s bill to reform federal technology management and procurement, an issue many see as the fundamental breakdown to the healthcare.gov implementation and a general symptom of the government’s inability to deliver IT projects on time and on budget.

“If the people in government technology were made up of characters in the marvel universe, Todd Park would most assuredly be Captain America — someone who selflessly serves, has a strong moral compass, and has an uncanny ability to always be optimistic and see the best in everyone,” writes Former White House Presidential Innovation Fellow Clay Johnson on Google+. Johnson is one of the supporters leading the petition effort.

Issa’s own open government organization, OpenGov Foundation, that he co-founded and serves as chairman, is focused on solving many of the same issues Park has become a key champion for, including open, accessible public data.

“Information and technology are disruptive,” the organization states on its website. “But data-driven disruption is what will ultimately break down the barriers of closed, inaccessible, unaccountable government … We’ll bring the sledgehammers.”

Given the open government community’s focus on collaboration over political conflict, it will be interesting to see how the fallout will impact long-term sentiments towards his own organization’s efforts.

It appears many think Issa should focus his energy, and hammer, on an issue beyond Park’s superpowers.

Letter to U.S. CTO Todd Park from Congressman Darrell Issa

Can Clay Johnson save federal government procurement?

Clay Johnson (Photo: Joi Ito)

Clay Johnson (Photo: Joi Ito)

Clay Johnson has been talking about procurement and how it’s America’s big problem since (at least) 2010, and he has yet to let up.

Knowing Clay, he’s not going to, so let’s give him a shot at fixing it.

What Clay had to say about procurement in 2010, before he became so well-versed on the subject, will resonate with many given our current technology crisis:

Both the liberal and the conservative ought to jointly care about federal procurement. From “gov2.0” to financial reform to healthcare to defense, there isn’t a single political issue that the federal procurement process does not impact. If you’re a healthcare advocate, for example, how government buys things will greatly affect any form of universal healthcare’s cost. If you’re pro-security, I’m sure you want government to have the best flak vests and armor available. You want procurement to work.

Let’s face it, when most people hear the word “procurement,” their eyes glaze over before falling into a deep coma.

Clay brings procurement to life as if it were a puppet show, leaving us captivated, laughing, engaged, wanting more. He’s the Aneesh Chopra meets Todd Park meets Jim Henson of procurement and he may be the one who can save us.

But more than that, he has the chops.

Clay is currently co-founder of the new startup Department of Better Technology, whose flagship product, Screendoor, includes an easy-to-use public-facing RFP listing platform. Previously, he served as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow with Project RFP-EZ. Working at Sunlight Foundation and Blue State Digital, he proved he can execute technology and build community around a cause.

He’s co-authored a white paper, “7 Simple Ways to Modernize Enterprise Procurement.” He served on California’s Task Force on Reengineering IT Procurement for Success that produced recommendations to improve large IT procurements.

Here’s more from Clay on the recent technology issues related to healthcare.gov:

All this and he loves the intersection of technology and procurement more than anyone else in America.

If you have doubts, watch Clay discussing procurement at this year’s Code for America Summit:

I’m not naive to think one person can make wholesale reform happen overnight, but we have strong examples that appointing the right person with the right personality in the right C-level role at the right time can be a game changer.

We’ve seen this in technology with the appointments of the nation’s first chief information officer (Vivek Kundra) and chief technology officer (Aneesh Chopra) and, subsequently, Steven VanRoekel and Todd Park. None of them are in the weeds coding (Clay will be), but they served as linchpins for opening the doors to opportunity. They created plans and roadmaps with agency deliverables. They brought hope to the disgruntled innovators fighting the good fight within government.

Sure, they’ve ruffled feathers, but that’s what was needed for government technology and needed even more for procurement. And, if you don’t already know this, I can assure you, Clay Johnson is not afraid to ruffle feathers.

Appoint Clay Johnson as U.S. chief procurement officer.

He may be the one who can save us.

How developers can win Congress

House of RepresentativesIn a recent post from Coder-in-Chief Clay Johnson, Clay outlines several reasons why developers should run for Congress. Among them:

  • They’re under-represented as a profession.
  • Government’s problems are becoming increasingly technical.
  • Great developers are systems fixers and systems hackers.
  • Developers are great digital communicators.

Despite the argument we should keep developers out of politics, Microsoft’s Howard Dierking’s Engineering Good Government suggests the Constitutional framers were in fact the nation’s first patriot programmers:

Modern software design deals with the complexities of creating systems composed of innumerable components that must be stable, reliable, efficient, and adaptable over time. A language has emerged over the past several years to capture and describe both practices to follow and practices to avoid when designing software. These are known as patterns and antipatterns. This chapter will explore known software design patterns and antipatterns in context of the U.S. Constitution and will hopefully encourage further application of software design principles as a metaphor for describing and modeling the complex dynamics of government in the future.

If the developer community is serious about building a more concerted effort around changing the way Washington works, here are some recommendations:

Find the founders

It’s not enough to say ‘if you’re a developer ‘” consider a run!’ Developers with civic passion need to step up and show it can be done. The movement needs real faces, real leaders that will walk the walk. Tech leaders already at the intersection of government and technology like Clay Johnson (yes you, Clay), Jim Gilliam or tech publisher Tim O’Reilly, can show firsthand you can change government from the inside.

Build a coalition

Create a sense of unity. A well-labeled coalition would allow candidates to better affiliate themselves with a movement and simplify their message. It doesn’t have to be a new iParty, just something that unifies the platform, much the way the Blue Dog Democrats have done. Ultimately, when these candidates are elected, they could build their own official caucus with a more formal, long-standing impact.

Build an ‘Operating System for America’ platform

Much like Newt Gingrich did with ‘Contract for America,’ developers need to present their case in a concise manner. Create specific objectives as to how the work on Congress needs to change and tie in the spirit of innovation, technology so that it will resonate with citizens. More importantly, the objectives need to be defined outside of standard political issues.

Establish a support network

Most professions have a supporting political organization that provides resources, networking and fundraising opportunities for members running for office. A ‘Coders for America’ organization doesn’t have to be a formal 501c organization, but there does need to be a foundational support network that can help developers better understand the campaign process and better access resources.

Make geek chic

We’re all too familiar with the stereotype that developers are introverts or think they’re smarter than everyone else. The iParty needs to be more iPhone, less Android, so to speak. Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs has perfected the art of making geek chic. Tech-centric political candidates would do well to take a page from his book (or iPad).

As the dynamics of government and politics increasingly shift to the Web, and citizens adopt tools and technology that make it easier to access elected officials, developers are well-suited to best understand how to tap into this opportunity.

The next step is to do something about it.

TransparencyData.com shines light on campaign contributions from last 20 years

Sunlight Foundation has launched TransparencyData, a new Website that lets users easily access the past 20 years of federal and state campaign contributions all in one place. The site merges data from OpenSecrets, FollowTheMoney.org and lobbying information from the Senate Office of Public Records.

Sunlight Labs Director Clay Johnson:

“This tool is focused on giving people bulk access to data. Instead of generating complex visualizations, and a slick user interface, we’ve focused on making it easy to query this large dataset, and walk away with a spreadsheet of the data you need. The ultimate output of this tool isn’t an HTML table, but a CSV file so you can take the data and do the research you need to do … Look for government contracting, earmarks, and congressional biographical data coming shortly.”

Video overview:

More from Sunlight:

Gov 2.0 guide to the Public Online Information Act (POIA)

The Public Online Information Act (POIA) of 2010, H.R.4858, was introduced on March 13 by Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) to put public information online in user-friendly formats in a timely fashion. The bill applies to Executive Branch agencies and is essentially a proactive approach to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act). Sunlight Foundation has launched Public=Online, a grassroots campaign to gain support for the legislation.

Overview:

To establish an advisory committee to issue nonbinding government-wide guidelines on making public information available on the Internet, to require publicly available Government information held by the executive branch to be made available on the Internet, to express the sense of Congress that publicly available information held by the legislative and judicial branches should be available on the Internet, and for other purposes.

Video intro to POIA:

Press conference with Rep. Israel, Sunlight Foundation Executive Director Ellen Miller and Personal Democracy Forum Founder Andrew Rasiej announcing the bill:

Israel and Miller discuss POIA on MSNBC:

More POIA

Gov 2.0 guide to Sunlight Foundation

Sunlight Foundation is a Washington, DC-based 501c(3) non-profit organization founded in 2006 to focus on “making government transparent and accountable.” Its name comes from a quote by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Sunlight was co-founded by Michael Klein and Ellen Miller. Miller serves as its executive director.

Ellen Miller GovFreshTV interview:

Ellen Miller CSPAN interview:

Ellen Miller Web 2.0 Expo interview with Tim O’Reilly:

Projects

  • OpenCongress.org: Brings together official government data with news and blog coverage, social networking, public participation tools, and more. Free, open-source, not-for-profit, and non-partisan web resource with a mission to make Congress more transparent and to encourage civic engagement.
  • Foreign Lobbying: Foreign Lobbyist Influence Tracker, a joint project of ProPublica and Sunlight, digitizes information that representatives of foreign governments, political parties and government-controlled entities must disclose to the U.S. Justice Department when they seek to influence U.S. policy.
  • Congrelate: Lets users view, sort, filter and share information about members of Congress and their districts.
  • Transparency Corps: Lets anyone, anywhere have a positive impact on making our government more transparent by aggregating small actions that require human intelligence but not specialized political knowledge.
  • Party Time: Documents the Congressional fundraising circuit.
  • Transparency Jobs: Features jobs from both the US Federal Government and non-government organizations.
  • LouisDB: The Library Of Unified Information Sources, an effort, to paraphrase Justice Louis Brandeis, to illuminate the workings of the federal government.

Sunlight Labs

Sunlight Foundation also includes Sunlight Labs, a “community of open source developers and designers dedicated to opening up our government to make it more transparent, accountable and responsible.” Sunlight Labs has an online community and a Google Group. Clay Johnson is its director.

Clay Johnson GovFreshTV interview:

Clay Johnson Gov 2.0 Radio interview:

[audio:http://www.blogtalkradio.com/gov20/2009/04/19/talkimg-gov20-with-clay-johnson.mp3]

Blogs

Connect

More Sunlight Foundation

Best of GovFreshTV in 2009

GovFreshTV interviewed many of the leading figures in the open government, Gov 2.0 movement in 2009. It’s an incredible list of thinkers shaping the future of government.

I’m honored to have met and talked with each of them about the work they’re doing.

Here’s a review:

Craig Newmark

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark talks about Gov 2.0 and social media’s role in democracy.

Bill Eggers

Bill Eggers is the author of ‘Government 2.0’ and co-author of ‘If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government.’

Ellen Miller

Sunlight Foundation Co-founder and Executive Director Ellen Miller discusses open government, transparency and gov 2.0.

Clay Johnson

GovFreshTV talks with Sunlight Labs Director Clay Johnson.

Dmitry Kachaev

GovFreshTV talks with Dmitry Kachaev, Director of Research and Development, DC Government OCTO Labs.

Jake Brewer

Sunlight Foundation Engagement Director Jake Brewer discusses Gov 2.0, open government and transparency.

Mark Drapeau

Dr. Mark Drapeau (@cheek_geeky), co-chair of Gov 2.0 Expo, share his thoughts on Gov 2.0 in 2009, and what to expect in 2010.

Laurel Ruma

GovFreshTV talks with O’Reilly Media’s Laurel Ruma.

Silona Bonewald

GovFreshTV talks with Silona Bonewald of Citability.org and League of Technical Voters.

Jim Gilliam

GovFreshTV interview with NationBuilder, act.ly and whitehouse2.org founder Jim Gilliam.

Open gov, Gov 2.0 leaders react to White House Open Government Directive

Here’s what open government and Gov 2.0 leaders are saying about the new White House Open Government Directive.

What’s your take?

Carl Malamud, Public.Resource.Org (@CarlMalamud)

Carl Malamud

“This is great. No equivocating, vacillating, hemming, or hawing. This is all good, big thumbs up to the folks that made this happen.”


Ellen Miller, Sunlight Foundation (@EllnMllr)

Ellen Miller

“The Open Government Directive demonstrates how the Obama administration is matching its aspirational goals with concrete policies and accountability measures. I expect it will create a sea change in how the government and public interact, what information we as citizens have at our fingertips, and that it will redefine that public information means that its online. It’s going to be up to all of us to participate and monitor how well government meets these goals.”


Craig Newmark, Craigslist (@craignewmark)

Craig Newmark

“The Open Government Initiative is a huge commitment to:

  • listening to all Americans, hearing what they have to say
  • telling people what’s going on in government, like where the money goes

The results will create effective large-scale grassroots democracy and far greater fiscal responsibility.

I feel that these efforts are complementary to the adoption of the US Consititution.”


Chris Vein, City and County of San Francisco (@Veinesque)

Chris Vein

The President’s Directive is a tremendous step forward. It not only further explains the President’s vision, but it provides an aggressive roadmap and timeline for getting Federal, State and local governments to improve transparency, increase participation and collaboration. San Francisco is proud to have responded early to the President’s call for open government with our Open Data Directive and DataSF initiatives. The President’s Directive will help San Francisco improve and extend our goal of a more transparent and open City.

Dustin Haisler, City of Manor, TX (@dustinhaisler)

Dustin Haisler

“The Open Government Directive is a great starting point for the open-gov movement in the federal government; however, one thing to consider is whether open data is truly “usable” data for our constituents. Instead of just putting datasets online for mashup artists, we should also focus on the interface our citizens will use to get the information. In addition, multi-agency collaboration starting on the local level will be a very important key to the overall initiative’s success. Overall, I think the directive is good move in the right direction for the federal government.”


Peter Corbett, iStrategyLabs (@corbett3000)

Peter Corbett

“We’ve all been eagerly awaiting the OGD and it’s not a let down by any stretch. It will lend support and clarification to what is a complex issue for our government: how to become more open, transparent and participatory. What we’re seeing here is the innovative use of technology and smart policy to unleash the talent of the American people. I’m most excited about how the work we’ve done on Apps for Democracy will soon be institutionalized throughout federal agencies when OMB releases guidance for how to use challenges, prizes and other incentives for stimulating citizen driven innovation.”


Andrew Wilson, Health & Human Services (@AndrewPWilson)

Andrew Wilson

“This directive represents a significant step toward the president’s goals of transparency, public participation and collaboration. One element that I would like to see emphasized as part of the implementation is a concerted, systemic effort to improve the tools government employees have available to collaborate internally. For me, improved internal collaboration is an essential element to developing the framework for a more fully engaged and responsive government. Imagine a world where cross-departmental information flow was so robust that citizens could interact with ANY agency on ANY issue and could get a timely, complete and helpful response.”


Steve Ressler, GovLoop (@govloop)

Steve Ressler

“Open Government Directive is a great first step in the open gov/Gov 2.0 movement. While the data and transparency piece is important, I’m most interested in how agencies create their own open gov plans and what actions they take from their planning exercise. I believe most of the movement for open gov starts when it is done at the agency level and solving true mission needs.”


Clay Johnson, Sunlight Labs (@cjoh)

Clay Johnson

“This is a great and ambitious plan that’s particularly challenging in terms of both logistics and technology. It is the equivalent of the “putting a man on the moon” of the Transparency movement in the federal government. Challenging, awe-inspiring and risky.”


Adriel Hampton, Gov 2.0 Radio (@adrielhampton)

Adriel Hampton

“I am concerned that some may use the document and its compliance deadlines as a simple checklist. However, as did the president’s January open government memo, this document empowers the growing ranks of Gov 2.0 innovators. Its guidance on data release and standards is also valuable and needed.”


Steve Lunceford, GovTwit (@dslunceford)

Steve Lunceford

“I think this is a great step to formalize a process and “movement” that has already been spreading throughout government. I would have like to have seen more guidance around transparency, participation and collaboration from an interagency standpoint versus just citizen interaction, but believe that could be a natural output as agencies strive to meet the various deadlines. It will also be interesting to see how quickly and enthusiastically agencies respond to a directive which lays out new unfunded mandates given the many priorities they are already juggling.”


Bob Gourley, CTOvision (@bobgourley)

Bob Gourley

The most important part of the directive, in my opinion, is the attachment with guidance on plan formulation. The thought put into that means agencies do not have to recreate the wheel when formulating their own plan. The part of the directive that we all need to watch out for abuse on: it seems to apply to all other than OMB and above. Yet history has shown those are the ones we need the most openness from.


Brian Ahier (@ahier)

Brian Ahier

“I am thrilled to see the emphasis on open government this directive represents. I hope to see government agencies able to meet the deadlines for action established by the Open Government Directive. I also want to see citizen participation in determining the high value data sets to be published. Since this directive also requires the data be published in an open format, it will be nice to have documents available where the data is not shielded within the pdf format.”