US CTO Park to step down, move west to recruit for Uncle Sam

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United States chief technology officer Todd Park will be moving to California at the end of August, just in time to take his kids to the first day of school. He’ll be shifting from his current position in the Office of Science and Technology a Policy to a new role in the White House, recruiting technologists to join public service. The move was first reported in Fortune Magazine and then Reuters, among other outlets. Update: On August 28th, the White House confirmed that Park would continue serving in the administration in a new role in blog post on WhiteHouse.gov.

“From launching the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, to opening up troves of government data to the public, to helping spearhead the successful turnaround of HealthCare.gov, Todd has been, and will continue to be, a key member of my Administration,” said President Barack Obama, in a statement. “I thank Todd for his service as my Chief Technology Officer, and look forward to his continuing to help us deploy the best people and ideas from the tech community in service of the American people.”

“I’m deeply grateful for Todd’s tireless efforts as U.S. Chief Technology Officer to improve the way government works and to generate better outcomes for the American people,” added White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director and Assistant to the President John Holdren. “We will miss him at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, but we’re fortunate Todd will continue to apply his considerable talents to the Obama Administration’s ongoing efforts to bring the country’s best technologists into the Federal Government.”

It will be interesting to see how Park approaches recruiting the nation’s technologists to serve in the new U.S. Digital Service and federal agencies in the coming months.

“It continues to be the greatest honor of my life to serve the President and the country that I love so very much,” stated Park, in the blog post. “I look forward to doing everything I can in my new role to help bring more and more of the best talent and best ideas from Silicon Valley and across the nation into government.”

For a wonderfully deep dive into what’s next for him, read Steven Levy’s masterfully reported feature (his last for Wired) on how Park is not done rebooting government just yet:

Park wants to move government IT into the open source, cloud-based, rapid-iteration environment that is second nature to the crowd considering his pitch tonight. The president has given reformers like him leave, he told them, “to blow everything the fuck up and make it radically better.” This means taking on big-pocketed federal contractors, risk-averse bureaucrats, and politicians who may rail at overruns but thrive on contributions from those benefiting from the waste. It also will require streamlined regulations from both the executive and legislative branches. But instead of picking fights, Park wants to win by showing potential foes the undeniable superiority of a modern approach. He needs these coders to make it happen, to form what he calls a Star Wars-style Rebel Alliance, a network of digital special forces teams. He can’t lure them with stock options, but he does offer a compelling opportunity: a chance to serve their country and improve the lives of millions of their fellow citizens.

“We’re looking for the best people on the planet,” he said. “We have a window of opportunity—right the fuck now—within this government, under this president, to make a huge difference.

“Drop everything,” he told them, “and help the United States of America!”

Who will be the new CTO?

The next US CTO will have big shoes to fill: Park has played key roles advising the president on policy, opening up government data and guiding the Presidential Innovation Fellows program and, when the president asked, rescuing Healthcare.gov, the federal online marketplace for health insurance. While it’s not clear who will replace Park yet, sources have confirmed to me that there will be another U.S. CTO in this administration. What isn’t clear is what role he (or she) might play, a question that Nancy Scola explored at The Switch for the Washington Post this week:

There’s a growing shift away from the idea, implicit in Obama’s pledge to create the U.S. CTO post back in 2007, that one person could alone do much of the work of fixing how the United States government thinks about IT. Call it the “great man” or “great woman” theory of civic innovation, perhaps, and it’s on the way out. The new U.S. Digital Service, the pod of technologists called 18F housed at the General Services Administration, the White House’s Presidential Innovation Fellows, even Park’s new outreach role in Silicon Valley — all are premised on the idea that the U.S. needs to recruit, identify, organize, and deploy simply more smart people who get technology.

An additional role for the third US CTO will be an example of the Obama administration’s commitment to more diverse approach to recruiting White House tech staffers in the second term. The men to hold the office were both the sons of immigrants: Aneesh Chopra is of Indian descent, and Park of Korean. As Colby Hochmuth reported for Federal Computer Week, the White House of Office and Science and Technology Policy achieved near-gender parity under Park.

If, as reported by Bloomberg News, Google X VP Megan Smith were to be chosen as the new US CTO, her inclusion as an openly gay woman, the first to hold the post, and the application of her considerable technological acumen to working on the nation’s toughest challenges would be an important part of Park’s legacy.

Update: On September 4th, the White House confirmed that Smith would be the next US CTO and former Twitter general counsel Alex Macgillvray would be a deputy US CTO.

[PHOTO CREDIT: Pete Souza]

This post has been updated with additional links, statements and analysis.

New study details technology deficit in government and civil society

stem-talent-federal-agenciesThe botched re-launch of Healthcare.gov led many observers unfamiliar with the endemic issues in government information technology to wonder how the first Internet president produced the government’s highest Internet failure. The Obama administration endured a winter full of well-deserved criticism, some informed, some less, regarding what went wrong at Healthcare.gov, from bad management to poor technology choices and implementation, agency insularity and political sensitivity at the White House.

While “Obama’s trauma team” successfully repaired the site, enabling millions to enroll in the health insurance plans offered in the online marketplace, the problems the debacle laid bare in human resources and IT procurement are now receiving well-deserved attention. While the apparent success of “the big fix” has taken some urgency away from Congress or the administration to address how the federal government can avoid another Healthcare.gov, the underlying problems remain. Although lawmakers have introduced legislation to create a “Government Digital Office” and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to reform aspects of federal IT, neither has gotten much traction in the Senate. In the meantime, hoping to tap into the success of the United Kingdom’s Government Digital Services team, the U.S. General Services Administration has stood up a new IT services unit, 18F, which officials hope will help government technology projects fail fast instead of failing big.

Into this mix comes  a new report from Friedman Consulting, commissioned by the Ford and MacArthur Foundations. Notably, the report also addresses the deficit of technology talent in the nonprofit sector and other parts of civil society, where such expertise and capacity could make demonstrable improvements to operations and performance. The full 51 page report is well worth reading, for those interested in the topic, but for those limited by time, here are the key findings:

1) The Current Pipeline Is Insufficient: the vast majority of interviewees indicated that there is a severe paucity of individuals with technical skills in computer science, data science, and the Internet or other information technology expertise in civil society and government. In particular, many of those interviewed noted that existing talent levels fail to meet current needs to develop, leverage, or understand technology.
2) Barriers to Recruitment and Retention Are Acute: many of those interviewed said that substantial barriers thwart the effective recruitment and retention of individuals with the requisite skills in government and civil society. Among the most common barriers mentioned were those of compensation, an inability to pursue groundbreaking work, and a culture that is averse to hiring and utilizing potentially disruptive innovators.
3) A Major Gap Between The Public Interest and For-Profit Sectors Persists: as a related matter, interviewees discussed superior for-profit recruitment and retention models. Specifically the for-profit sector was perceived as providing both more attractive compensation (especially to young talent) and fostering a culture of innovation, openness, and creativity that was seen as more appealing to technologists and innovators.
4) A Need to Examine Models from Other Fields: interviewees noted significant space to develop new models to improve the robustness of the talent pipeline; in part, many existing models were regarded as unsustainable or incomplete. Interviewees did, however, highlight approaches from other fields that could provide relevant lessons to help guide investments in improving this pipeline.
5) Significant Opportunity for Connection and Training: despite consonance among those interviewed that the pipeline was incomplete, many individuals indicated the possibility for improved and more systematic efforts to expose young technologists to public interest issues and connect them to government and civil society careers through internships, fellowships, and other training and recruitment tools.
6) Culture Change Necessary: the culture of government and civil society – and its effects on recruitment and other bureaucratic processes – was seen as a
vital challenge that would need to be addressed to improve the pipeline. This view manifested through comments that government and civil society organizations needed to become more open to utilizing technology and adopting a mindset of experimentation and disruption.

And here’s the conclusion:

Based on this research, the findings of the report are clear: technology talent is a key need in government and civil society, but the current state of the pipeline is inadequate to meet that need. The bad news is that existing institutions and approaches are insufficient to build and sustain this pipeline, particularly in the face of
sharp for-profit competition. The good news is that stakeholders interviewed identified a range of organizations and practices that, at scale, have the potential to make an enormous difference. While the problem is daunting, the stakes are high. It will be critical for civil society and government to develop sustainable and
effective pathways for the panoply of technologists and experts who have the skills to create truly 21st century institutions.

For those interested, the New America Foundation will be hosting a forum on the technology deficit in Washington, DC, on April 29th. The event will be livestreamed and archived.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh issues open data executive order; city council ordinance to come?

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The City of Boston has joined the growing list of cities around the world that have adopted open data. The executive order issued yesterday by Mayor Marty Walsh has been hailed by open government advocates around the country. The move to open up Boston’s data has been followed by action, with 411 data sets listed on data.cityofboston.gov as of this morning. The EO authorizes and requires Boston’s chief information officer to issue a City of Boston Open Data Policy and “include standards for the format and publishing of such data and guidance on accessibility, re-use and minimum documentation for such data.”

The element on re-use is critical: the success of such initiatives should be judged based upon the network effects of open data releases, not the raw amount of data published online, and improvements to productivity, efficiency, city services, accountability and transparency.

Notably, Boston City Councilor-at-Large Michelle Wu also filed a proposal yesterday morning to create an open data ordinance that would require city agencies and departments to make open data available, codifying the executive order into statue as San Francisco, New York City and Philadelphia have done.

“Government today should center on making data-driven decisions and inviting in the public to collaborate around new ideas and solutions,” said Wu, in a statement.  “The goal of this ordinance is greater transparency, access, and innovation.  We need a proactive, not a reactive, approach to information accessibility and open government.”

 

Notably, she posted the text of her proposed open data ordinance online on Monday, unlike the city government, and tweeted a link to it. (It took until today for the city of Boston to post the order; city officials have yet to share it on social media. )

“Boston is a world-class city full of energy and talent,” said Wu. “In addition to promoting open government, making information available to the fullest extent possible will help leverage Boston’s energy and talent for civic innovation. From public hackathons to breaking down silos between city departments, putting more data online can help us govern smarter for residents in every neighborhood.”

As long-time readers know, I lived in Boston for a decade. It’s good to see the city government move forward to making the people’s data available to them for use and reuse. I look forward to seeing what the dynamic tech, financial, health care, educational and research communities in the greater Boston area do with it.

EXECUTIVE ORDER OF MAYOR MARTIN J. WALSH

An Order Relative to Open Data and Protected Data Sharing

Whereas, it is the policy of the City of Boston to practice Open Government, favoring participation, transparency, collaboration and engagement with the people of the City and its stakeholders; and
Whereas, information technologies, including web-based and other Internet applications and services, are an essential means for Open Government, and good government generally; and
Whereas, the City of Boston should continue, expand and deepen the City’s innovative use of information technology toward the end of Open Government, including development and use of mobile computing and applications, provision of online data, services and transactions; and
Whereas, the City of Boston also has an obligation to protect some data based upon privacy, confidentiality and other requirements and must ensure that protected data not be released in violation of applicable constraints; and
Whereas, clarification and definition of open data, privacy, security requirements, interoperability and interaction flows is necessary for the City’s Open Government agenda;
NOW THEREFORE, pursuant to the authority vested in me as Chief Executive Officer of the City of Boston by St. 1948, c. 452 Section 11, as appearing in St. 1951, c. 376, Section 1, and every other power hereto enabling, I hereby order and direct as follows:

1. The City of Boston recognizes Open Government as a key means for enabling public participation, transparency, collaboration and effective government, including by ensuring the availability and use of Open Data, appropriate security and sharing of Protected Data, effective use of Identity and Access Management and engagement of stakeholders and experts toward the achievement of Open Government.
2. The City of Boston Chief Information Officer (“CIO”), in consultation with City departments, is authorized and directed to issue a City of Boston Open Data Policy.
a) The Open Data Policy shall include standards for the format and publishing of such data and guidance on accessibility, re-use and minimum documentation for such data;

b) The Open Data Policy shall include guidance for departments on the classification of their data sets as public or protected and a method to report such classification to the CIO. All departments shall publish their public record data sets on the City of Boston open data portal to the extent such data sets are determined to be appropriate for public disclosure, and/or if appropriate, may publish their public record data set through other methods, in accordance with API, format, accessibility and other guidance of the Open Data Policy.
3. The City of Boston CIO, in consultation with City departments, is authorized and directed to issue a City of Boston Protected Data Policy applicable to non-public data, such as health data, educational records and other protected data;

a) The policy shall provide guidance on the management of Protected Data, including guidance on security and other controls to safeguard Protected Data, including appropriate Identity and Access Management and good practice guidelines for compliance with legal or other rules requiring the sharing of Protected Data with authorized parties upon the grant of consent, by operation of law or when otherwise so required;
b) The policy shall provide a method to ensure approval by the Corporation Counsel of the City of Boston to confirm Protected Data is only disclosed in accordance with the Policy.
4. This Executive Order is not intended to diminish or alter the rights or obligations afforded under the Massachusetts Public Records Law, Chapter 66, Section 10 of the Massachusetts General Laws and the exemptions under Chapter 4, Section 7(26). Additionally, this Executive Order is intended to be interpreted consistent with Federal, Commonwealth, and local laws and regulations regarding the privacy, confidentiality, and security of data. Nothing herein shall authorize the disclosure of data that is confidential, private, exempt or otherwise legally protected unless such disclosure is authorized by law and approved by the Corporation Counsel of the City of Boston.
5. This Executive Order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the City of Boston, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
6. The City of Boston CIO is authorized and directed to regularly consult with experts, thought leaders and key stakeholders for the purpose of exploring options for the implementation of policies and practices arising under or related to this Executive Order.

Presidential Innovation Fellows show (some) government technology can work, after all

The last six months haven’t been kind to the public’s perception of the Obama administration’s ability to apply technology to government. The administration’s first term that featured fitful but genuine progress in modernizing the federal government’s use of technology, from embracing online video and social media to adopting cloud computing, virtualization, mobile devices and open source software. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau earned praise from The Washington Post, Bloomberg View, and The New York Times for getting government technology right.

Last fall, however, the White House fell into a sinkhole of its own creation when the troubled launch of Healthcare.gov led to the novel scene of a President of the United States standing in the Rose Garden, apologizing for the performance of a website. After the big fix to Healthcare.gov by a quickly assembled trauma team got the site working, the administration has quietly moved towards information technology reforms, with the hopes of avoiding the next Healthcare.gov, considering potential shifts in hiring rules and forming a new development unit within the U.S. General Services agency.

Without improved results, however, those reforms won’t be sufficient to shift the opinion of millions of angry Americans. The White House and agencies will have to deliver on better digital government, from services to public engagement.

pif-logo-300pxThis week, the administration showed evidence that it has done so: The projects from the second round of the White House’s Presidential Innovation Fellows program are online, and they’re impressive. US CTO Todd Park and US GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini proudly described their accomplishments today:

Since the initiative launched two years ago, Presidential Innovation Fellows, along with their government teammates, have been delivering impressive results—at start-up velocity. Fellows have unleashed the power of open government data to spur the creation of new products and jobs; improved the ability of the Federal government to respond effectively to natural disasters; designed pilot projects that make it easier for new economy companies to do business with the Federal Government; and much more. Their impact is enormous.

These projects show that a relatively small number of talented fellows can work with and within huge institutions to rapidly design and launch platforms, Web applications and open data initiatives. The ambition and, in some cases, successful deployment of projects like RFPEZ, Blue Button Connect, OpenFDA, a GI Bill toolGreen Button, and a transcription tool at the Smithsonian Institute are a testament to the ability of public servants in the federal government to accomplish their missions using modern Web technologies and standards. (It’s also an answer to some of the harsh partisan criticism that the program faced at launch.)

In a blog post and YouTube video from deputy U.S. chief technology officer Jennifer Pahlka, the White House announced today they had started taking applications for a third round of fellows that would focus on 14 projects within three broad areas: veterans, open data and crowdsourcing:

  • “Making Digital the Default: Building a 21st Century Veterans Experience: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is embarking on a bold new initiative to create a “digital by default” experience for our Nation’s veterans that provides better, faster access to services and complements the Department’s work to eliminate the disability claims backlog.
  • Data Innovation: Unleashing the Power of Data Resources to Improve Americans’ Lives: This initiative aim to accelerate and expand the Federal Government’s efforts to liberate government data by making these information resources more accessible to the public and useable in computer readable forms, and to spur the use of those data by companies, entrepreneurs, citizens, and others to fuel the creation of new products, services, and jobs.
  • By the People, for the People: Crowdsourcing to Improve Government: Crowdsourcing is a powerful way to organize people, mobilize resources, and gather information. This initiative will leverage technology and innovation to engage the American public as a strategic partner in solving difficult challenges and improving the way government works—from helping NASA find asteroid threats to human populations to improving the quality of U.S. patents to unlocking information contained in government records.”

Up until today, the fruits of the second class of fellows have been a bit harder to ascertain from the outside, as compared to the first round of five projects, like RFPEZ, where more iterative development was happening out in the open on Github. Now, the public can go see for themselves what has been developed on their behalf and judge for themselves whether it works or not, much as they have with Healthcare.gov.

I’m particularly fond of the new Web application at the Smithsonian Institute, which enables the public to transcribe handwritten historic documents and records. It’s live at Transcription.si.edu, if you’d like to pitch in, you can join more than three thousand volunteers who have already transcribed and reviewed more than 13,000 historic and scientific records. It’s a complement to the citizen archivist platform that the U.S. National Archives announced in 2011 and subsequently launched. Both make exceptional use of the Internet’s ability to distribute and scale a huge project around the country, enabling public participation in the creation of a digital commons in a way that was not possible before.