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Recreation.gov and other Govt Projects Move Toward Embracing New Digital Approach

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, November 20 2014

A draft request for proposals for the revamping of Recreation.gov will include a requirement that reservation availability data be publicly accessible and that all proposals detail how they will enable third-party sales, as two members of the United States Digital Services have joined the government team overseeing the RFP, meeting some key demands of civic technologists and consumer oriented technology companies.

Alyssa Ravasio, founder of HipCamp, reported on the news in an e-mail sent to the Access Land campaign, the coalition of groups that had criticized the original RFP, following a government-organized industry day last Thursday.

As techPresident had previously reported, the advocates saw the Recreation.gov RFP as a test case for implementing the new vision of government technology exemplified by the Obama administration's establishment of the U.S. Digital Service within the Office of Management and Budget and the 18F digital services team within the General Services Administration.

"This is a huge win for the team, they said they've been asking for technical resources for five years and because of our noise, they got them!," Ravasio wrote in the e-mail.

"It has been our intent all along that the strongest bidder to the solicitation would include an open-data solution that mirrors the principals outlined in the U.S. Digital Services Playbook," Recreation One-Stop Program Manager Rick DeLappe wrote in a letter now attached to the RFP. "Also, as a result of the current comment period we have reached out for additional expertise through U.S. Digital Services and the White House’s Presidential Innovation Fellows program and will work with consultants from these offices throughout the remainder of the acquisition process."

Beyond that "progress" though, the advocates are still pushing to codify the necessity of requiring an API as a core feature of Recreation that would allow for transactions through third parties and revenue sharing.

They have drafted a whitepaper aimed at the government and potential contractors making a detailed case for their requests, including the importance of viewing Recreation.gov as a platform, and calling on the contractor to "dogfood" the API so that the same technology running the platform is available to the public and to third parties. "We'd love your feedback and help in communicating to the government that we don't want all the bookings and revenue for our federal park system locked into a single company for the next decade," Ravasio wrote.

DeLappe wrote in the RFP letter that details about the use of an API "were purposefully vague" in order to allow a prospective contractor to offer a solution within the open-data framework and "with enough flexibility to keep pace with advancement in technology and the endless possibilities about how the public will consume information in the next decade."

Submission of comments on the RFP is still possible until November 30. According to an update to the RFP that includes a presentation from the Industry Day, the plan is to release another draft RFP in early 2015 with the goal of issuing an award in late summer 2015.

It is not the only area of government that is seeing an embrace of a new approach to government technology. Dana Chisnell, a civic design and user experience expert who recently joined the U.S. Digital Services as a consultant, told attendees at a recent Civic Design Camp in Brooklyn that the new digital services effort underway at the Department of Veterans Affairs was hiring around 75 positions.

Also this past week, 18F released a beta version of a myRA platform, a new retirement savings program with the Treasury Department that President Obama announced in the State of the Union this year.