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Presidential Innovation Fellows Whose LinkedIn Profiles Would Put Yours to Shame

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Tuesday, June 25 2013

The White House on Monday announced a new group of Presidential Innovation Fellows, many of whom have deep experience in the worlds of business, education, science, finance and technology.

The Presidential Innovation Fellows is a program established by Chief Technology Officer Todd Park and Chief Information Officer Steven Van Roekel last year. They unveiled the first round of fellows and projects last August, and held a national tour gathering ideas and contacts from the public. Since then, at least one of the projects -- RFP-EZ -- has spun off into a company, and continues to be supported in this second round. Now the founder and executive director of CfA, Jen Pahlka, is the White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer and is in charge of the Innovation Fellows program.

New projects in this round focus on disaster relief and recovery, creating a private-public tech standard for the "Internet of Things," and developing a standardized kind of test for the Treasury Department to provide to federal agencies when they buy new financial accounting systems, which have historically been plagued by disastrous deployments, overengineering and cost overruns. Many of the fellows will help to build out the projects established by the first round. These include projects run by USAID, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the General Servies Administration and the State Department, several open data initiatives, RFP-EZ, and government service delivery through MyUSA, which last year was called "MyGov."

The fellows themselves come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

For example, fellows Chris Cairns, Scott Wu, and Scott Hartley come from the worlds of venture capital, technology and private equity. They are now dedicated to working on projects in USAID, and on the financial services accounting system for the Treasury.

There are also dozens of successful technology entrepreneurs and tech company employees who have quit their lives temporarily in the private sector to work on open data initiatives in various parts of he government, including the Smithsonsian Institution, the National Science Foundation, the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Interior, Treasury and the Food and Drug Administration.

The projects were brought to the White House through a competitive process, meaning that the fellows will be paired with groups of people in the various departments who had to put in effort to bring them there. In theory, they'll be applying their private-sector knowledge to create innovative approaches to public-sector problems.

One project from last year regarded as a success is RFP-EZ, which officials say has already saved government workers money in their procurement processes. The next step is for the fellows to build "a portal of prices paid by agencies under their contracts."

Another technologically interesting project is MyUSA, which has eight fellows assigned to it. The project would build a single login that would work across federal government for people to use while taking care of tasks like registering a business or applying for a license to import or export goods.

There are several Web developers dedicated to this effort, including John Kemp, the former principal engineer at ESPN. His work there involved "researching distributed video processing and the use of new consumer devices, such as the Raspberry Pi." But he's also a member of the World Wide Web Consortium and an expert in Internet standards, especially Web authentication standards like OAuth and OpenID. Another developer on this project, John Felleman, has a background in writing software for "the next generation of air-traffic control" at NASA and also served at Adobe. There's also Claire Holroyd, who left a job at Sony Network Entertainment as a senior product manager to work on MyUSA.

Another fellow with unique experience is Dr. Robert L. Read, director of software development at the financial services software company Planview. In his spare time, according to his profile on the White House website, Read developed the "Merfluke 7," a "functional but slow device for dolphin-like human-powered swimming."

Read is assigned to working on RFP-EZ and contracting tools, with three other entrepreneurs.