I am just back from my holidays, which I spent with my family in Australia. I had a great time, also because I decided to resist the temptation of doing any work-related activity unless it was extremely urgent for a client-facing deadline (but a bit of luck and good planning made these very few and light). While I was sunbathing in Northern Queensland I read about the nomination of Presidential Fellows, who are supposed to help the US Federal Government carry forward five key innovation initiatives under its hyperactive new CTO’s (Todd Park) guidance.
Selected fellows are startup and serial entrepreneurs. web developers, open data experts, software engineers. They constitute a first class, with more to come, and their role – in Park’s words - is to
leverage the ingenuity of leading problem solvers from across America together with federal innovators to tackle projects that aim to fuel job creation,
bring their entrepreneurial expertise to the table that has helped jump-start high-tech companies, increase efficiency and public engagement, and redefine how technology is used in business.
The five projects where this new type of collaboration will take place are:
- Blue Button: extending to all Americans the ability to download and access their health records, currently available to veterans
- RFP-EZ: to allow small and dynamic businesses to more easily access federal procurement opportunities
- MyGov: to reinvent the way citizens deal electronically with government. taking inspiration from what the UK has been doing with Gov.uk
- 20% initiative: to move a substantial portion of foreign assistance payments from cash to electronic means
- Open Data Initiative: strengthening and extending the Health Data Initiative to other areas
The process of formally associating non-government experts to government innovation initiatives is very interesting and I’m sure the public sector community will look at this with great interest.
The main challenge, as I said in a previous post, is whether and how these initiatives can be sustained and become part of the normal course of business.
Park’s entrepreneurial style and his successes when at HHS suggest that most of these initiatives could bear fruits. However the attention span of this administration is rapidly shifting toward an upcoming election with a more uncertain outcome than many would have expected. The federal employees who are supposed to work with the fellows on these innovations, and who are key to ensure their sustainability, may be holding their breath, waiting for the elections.
If there is a change of administration, it is reasonable to expect significant changes to the IT leadership – as most of the appointees have been active supporters of the first Obama’s campaign and have worked on his transition team.
But even if the administration stays the same, priorities may have to change to cope with economic uncertainties, job creation and preservation. While the impetus behind most of these initiatives is to create business opportunities from government programs, previous downturns in the US and elsewhere have shown that political attention often focuses on old industries and old jobs, to preserve or create low-hanging fruit employment opportunities.
The focus should be less on launching cool innovations but on making sure that those or even less cool one arte made to stick, even after the serial entrepreneurs and software engineers move on to their private sector pastures.