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Meet the White House Presidential Innovation Fellows

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, August 23 2012

The White House this morning announced the 18 techies and experts who will spend six months working on one of five projects using technology to try and improve government as part of the White House Presidential Innovation Fellows program.

The list of fellows includes several familiar names. Former techPresident research assistant Raphael Majma — who also has some more impressive bona fides, such as his New York Law School degree and a stint working with Beth Noveck on an open data project — is working on the administration's open data efforts. Blue State Digital cofounder Clay Johnson will be working on RFP-EZ, a project to make it easier for small contractors to participate in the federal procurement process. Working on MyGov, intended to be a one-stop portal to access federal government services, are Civic Commons co-founder and Open311 community manager Phil Ashlock and Ben Balter, who rolled his own analysis of federal websites to determine how many were reachable and using a modern content management system.

This is part of the Digital Government Strategy the White House rolled out in May, representing a new phase in Obama administration efforts to make government more open, participatory and collaborative. Also today, federal Chief Information Officer Steve VanRoekel published a list of things that federal agencies have already done, or are in the process of doing, to meet the guidelines set out in the strategy. The deliverables already in place are things like a new application programming interface for U.S. Census data, which techPresident covered when it went into beta testing in June, and the creation of several internal groups to share technology and social media standards and best practices. Agencies are also beginning to identify the data they might make available as fodder for developers through APIs, data sets that include the Department of Justice's Uniform Crime Report and the Environmental Protection Agency's repository of information about facilities subject to environmental regulation or of environmental interest.

TechPresident contributor Christian Bourge was at a press conference announcing the fellowship program this morning and we'll have more on the program later for Personal Democracy Plus subscribers. A first note is that some open-government and tech industry observers have been observing on Twitter that of 18 selectees, only two fellows are women, a hiring choice from the White House that comes as increasing attention is paid to counteracting the effects that a predominantly male workplace culture might have on some technology firms.

In the meantime, from a White House press release, here are the fellows and the projects they're working on:

The five projects, and the Fellows who will be working on each, are:

Blue Button for America will spread the ability for millions of Americans to easily and securely download their own health information electronically, all while fueling the emergence of time and money saving products and businesses.

  • Henry Wei, MD – Practicing doctor and informatics expert, New York, NY
  • Ryan Panchadsaram – Founder of Pipette, San Francisco, CA
  • Matt McCall – Information systems expert, Baltimore, MD

RFP-EZ aims to develop an online marketplace that will make it easier for the government to do business with small high-growth tech companies, and enabling the government to buy better, lower-cost tech solutions from the full range of American businesses.

  • Clay Johnson – Best-selling author, open government technologist and entrepreneur, Washington, DC
  • Jed Wood – Interaction designer, web developer, and entrepreneur, Chicago, IL
  • Adam Becker – Web developer and co-founder of civic engagement startup GovHub, Oakland, CA

MyGov will create a prototype of a streamlined online system enabling citizens to easily access the information and services from across the Federal Government.

  • Kara DeFrias – User experience writer from TurboTax San Diego, CA
  • Phil Ashlock – Open government program manager and co-founder of Civic Commons, Brooklyn, NY
  • Danny Chapman – Award-winning website designer, Riverside, RI
  • Greg Gershman – Software engineer and serial entrepreneur Baltimore, MD
  • Ben Balter – Software engineer, Washington, DC

The 20% Initiative will work to transition “the last mile” of international development assistance payments from cash to electronic methods – lowering administrative costs, promoting financial inclusion, and reducing theft, fraud, and violence.

  • Karl Mehta – Serial entrepreneur and founder of PlaySpan, Fremont, CA

Open Data Initiatives will accelerate and expand Administration efforts to make government data more publicly accessible in “computer-readable” form and spur the use of those data by entrepreneurs as fuel for the creation of new products, services, and jobs.

  • Ian Kalin – Navy veteran and managing director of an energy sector startup, San Francisco, CA
  • Marina Martin – Web developer and business efficiency expert, Seattle, WA
  • Raphael Majma – Open data researcher, Brooklyn, NY
  • Nick Bramble – Director, Law & Media Program, Information Society Project at Yale Law School, New Haven, CT
  • Dmitry Kachaev – Software engineer, Arlington, VA
  • Nathaniel Manning – Robotics entrepreneur and member of the World Economic Forum’s Personal Data team and Google’s Data Colloquium team, San Francisco, CA

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.


wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.


The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.


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Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.


Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.


monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.