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Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Announces New Tech Fellowship Program

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, May 1 2012

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced today that it is looking to bring on 30 designers and developers as part of a new, two-year fellowship program.

A federal bureau that began operations just last year, CFPB staffers are building an agency from the ground up, without either the infrastructure support or the dated precedent of older agencies. To do that in the 21st century, CFPB officials told me, they want technology talent on hand to work across the entire organization.

"We're in a unique position because of our size and newness that we can put in place a foundation that will last," CFPB Chief Information Officer Chris Willey told me today.

Fellows will be expected to work on projects varying from building tools to help monitor consumer financial institutions to building "visualizations that distill complex data into graphics that impact decision-making," according to the announcement page, "And you will create tools for our public web site that explain complex issues in ways that everyday people can understand."

Acting Deputy CIO Matthew Burton, a former techPresident contributor, said the idea is to build and design systems across the agency that can communicate with each other.

"If I'm in consumer response, I need to know that a bank examiner went into a bank last week and I'm seeing complaints about that same bank," he said, "even though the missions are somewhat separate, they all need to work in tandem together."

The fellows will start out working closely with the CFPB's technology team, learn the organization, then "hunker down" from locations of their choice to design and build products for the group they're working with within the agency. They'll be asked to make visits to DC periodically.

The fellowship program announcement follows the release of the CFPB's open source policy, which means all code produced by the agency be released under an open-source license. In this case, Willey and Burton say, it means that fellows' code will be posted on GitHub, where other developers can see and evaluate their work.

Asked about precedent for this program, Willey and Burton drew loose comparisons to Code for America, the project — started outside of government — to put fellows in city halls across the country for one-year stints. But Willey said there were several books to be written about how CFPB is making this and other initiatives work for the first time in the federal government.

That the CFPB has done something makes it more likely that people at other agencies — where precedent might discourage, for example, an open-source policy — can adapt the strategy. Willey promised that CFPB would share what it learns "about being an agency born in the 21st century."

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