The federal digital strategy released today is the next step in President Barack Obama’s effort to streamline and improve government services through mobile and web-based technologies and solidifies many efforts already under way.
Analysts mostly applauded the strategy, saying it provides specific, measurable goals, demonstrates a commitment to transforming the use of technology to better serve citizens, requires the use of analytics to enable more responsive government and builds security into to the federal digital architecture.
“During my tenure, a lot of things that were being done that were innovative were being done outside of a government-wide policy,” said Karen Evans, a retired Office of Management and Budget official and former director of electronic government during the George W. Bush administration. “This is taking all the existing efforts and institutionalizing them so no matter who wins the election, the strategy is there … the efforts aren’t lost in a second term Obama or first term Romney environment.”
She also told Breaking Gov: “It’s a clear strategy, but it’s going to take a lot of work to get there.”
Evans and others were pleased about plans included in the strategy for the General Services Administration to expand its current efforts and establish a Digital Services Innovation Center. The center, according to the document, would work with agencies to establish shared solutions and training to support infrastructure and content needs across the federal government (e.g.source code sharing tools, video captioning, language translation, usability and accessibility testing, web hosting, and security architectures).
The new strategy — “Digital Government: Building A 21st Century Platform To Better Serve The American People” — includes a three-layered approach –information, platform and presentation – which aims separate information creation from information presentation-allowing us to create content and data once, and then use it in different ways.In effect, this model represents a fundamental shift from the way our government provides digital services today.
“That’s an ambitious part of strategy, divorcing the data from technology and the presentation,” Evans said. “It won’t necessarily matter what the technological platforms are.”
The strategy also outlines 29 targeted milestones for all federal agencies, the General Services Administration, Office of Management and Budget, Department of Homeland Security and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
“These imperatives are not new, but many of the solutions are,” the document states. “We can use modern tools and technologies to seize the digital opportunity and fundamentally change how the Federal Government serves both its internal and external customers.”
In a memorandum on the release of the strategy, Obama directed each federal agency to implement the requirements of the strategy within 12 months of today and comply with the timeframes for specific actions specified therein. He also called for agencies to create a web page within 90 days to publicly report progress in meeting the requirements of the strategy in a machine-readable format.
Mark Forman, OMB’s first Administrator of the Office of E-Government and IT, during the George W. Bush Administration noted many benefits in the strategy, including building security into to the architecture at the front-end embracing the “buy once, use many,” “build once, use many,” and “collect once, use many” philosophies and a focus on data.
“But, I think a lot more emphasis and governance has to go into why data are being collected and the cost-benefit utility of government operations that use the data,” he said in an email to Breaking Gov. ” The creation and governance over APIs could yield big dividends if the government creates APIs that simplify federal data collection in addition to dissemination by reducing manual data entry burdens.”
Andras Szakal, Vice President and CTO of IBM U.S. Federal, also urged an emphasis on data.
“We urge the administration to continue to modernize how data is shared, securely and privately, and realize the full potential of analytics as promoted in their recently announced Big Data initiative,” Szakal said in a statement.
Finally, Forman added: “The strategy is pretty silent on government’s priorities and governance on leveraging mobile apps and APIs for downsizing the federal bureaucracy by streamlining headquarters organizations and agency operations.”
Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel, who announced the strategy at an event today and later blogged about some of the details, is expected to describe the new digital government strategy in greater detail at an event being held by the ACT-IAC and AFFIRM on Thursday in Washington.