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Tech In Obama’s 2013 Budget Proposal: Still High Hopes For Gov 2.0

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Tuesday, February 14 2012

The Obama Administration hopes that its Gov. 2.0 efforts will inspire other efforts around the world

The White House on Monday announced a 2013 budget proposal of $16.7 million for its e-government operations, and an additional $5 million for a government-wide fund that will enable agencies to reap the knowledge gained from lab-testing emerging technologies without having to conduct duplicative tests themselves.

The federal E-Government Fund, administered by the General Services Administration, pays for transparency and technology initiatives like Data.gov, Performance.gov, and USASpending.gov.

The additional $5 million pot of money pays for cross agency, government-wide initiatives, like the Information Technology Dashboard, privacy and security testing of new tech platforms, and data center consolidation efforts.

The $16.7 million is far lower than the $34 million per year that the administration had allocated for e-government initiatives in 2009 and 2010, but it’s more than the $12.4 million that congressional appropriators approved late last year for fiscal 2012. The administration and open government advocates had to vigorously fight off appropriators’ efforts to slash the funds for e-government initiatives during last year's budget battles.

This allocation is expected to fund improvements to the Federal Information Technology Dashboard,

“Certainly the increase for the proposed eGov fund is a good thing for open government and innovation,” said Gavin Baker, a federal information policy analyst for the open government group OMB Watch.

The group was one of those that had fought for maintenance of that funding last year.

While open data and web-based transparency initiatives form a minuscule part of the Obama administration’s proposed overall $3.7 trillion 2013 budget, administration officials say they expect big, transformative things to emerge from them. Both the U.S. and Indian governments have committed to develop an open-source Data.gov platform by the end of the first quarter of this year, for example.

“This initiative will lead to an open source platform available for implementation by nations around the world, encouraging governments to stand up open data sites that promote transparency, citizen engagement, and economic benefits worldwide,” declares the White House’s Office of Management and Budget in its budget document.

The administration is also hoping that more frequent public reporting and making big information technology projects more visible on the web will reduce the chances of those projects becoming financial black holes.

The flagship effort for that on the web is the administration’s “IT Dashboard,” which is an attempt to do “real-time” monitoring of those big IT projects in public. The administration says in its 2013 budget document that “in 2012, the IT dashboard will be updated with all new data schema and historical trend data, building on the recommendations of an interagency working group and providing even greater transparency into the Federal IT investment portfolio.”

Steven VanRoekel, the federal chief information officer, is continuing many of his predecessor Vivek Kundra’s cost-cutting initiatives, like pushing the government into the cloud to reduce costs. In addition to setting up a better system to monitor them, VanRoekel told reporters during a Monday afternoon conference call that he’s setting up “ad hoc SWAT teams” of staff who will swoop in on “high-risk, mission-critical investments.”

VanRoekel did not elaborate on what these SWAT teams do, exactly.

The White House also wants to inject fresh thinking into government and technology by bringing in new people. A new "entrepreneur-in-Residence” brings technologists with specific skills from the private sector to share their skills with agency staff, he said. One such pilot program is already underway at the Food and Drug Administration.

VanRoekel also wants to tap into the skills of the latest generation of tech talent. So last October, he established the Presidential Technology Fellows Program. He’ll start hiring the best of those fellows in 2012, he said.

Another transformative move is in the mobile space. The federal government is expected to unveil a major mobile initiative sometime in March. While some of it will focus on things like procurement policy, other aspects will address the way people working in the government operate.

For example, conservationists from the Department of Agriculture who go out to map farmland currently use big three-ringed binders to do the job, VanRoekel said. He hopes that arming those staffers with GPS-enabled tablets will make the whole process much more efficient.

“We have the opportunity to use technology as a strategic asset, something that’s done all the time in the private sector to lower costs, to increase efficiency and effectiveness," VanRoekel said, "to make us safer, to make American business more effective, and to connect government to our citizens."