Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Seeking Gifted Data Geeks, Scientists, & Entrepreneurs to Serve as Presidential Innovation Fellows

    “Today I’m announcing that we’re making even more government data available, and we’re making it easier for people to find and to use.  And that’s going to help launch more start-ups.  It’s going to help launch more businesses… It’s going to help more entrepreneurs come up with products and services that we haven’t even imagined yet.” – President Obama, May 9, 2013
    Freely-available, open government data is a valuable national resource driving innovation across the country—from entrepreneurs developing new apps, products, services, or companies to organizations spurring new insights and answers to pressing challenges. In fact, a recent report found that, in addition to catalyzing a variety of societal benefits, open data can generate more than $3 trillion a year in additional economic value.  
    Open data is good for the American people, and good for American business. That’s why we are seeking a few talented individuals to serve their country on a tour of duty– as Presidential Innovation Fellows – to help us unleash government data so that it can be put to use in valuable ways that benefit the American people. 
    Are you a talented data scientist or engineer? Or, a data geek, tech-savvy designer, or entrepreneur ready to lend your talents and expertise to help transform how government works for the people it serves? Then we want you to consider joining the ranks of the Presidential Innovation Fellows. We are currently accepting applications for the next round of the program, which pairs talented, diverse individuals from outside government with Federal innovators to implement game-changing projects. 
    The program includes a range of “Data Innovation” projects that aim to accelerate and expand the Federal Government’s various initiatives that work to make data more accessible and useful for citizens, companies, and innovators, while continuing to ensure privacy and security. These efforts include both open data initiatives, which focus on the release of general data resources in computer-readable formats , and “MyData” projects focused on empowering Americans with secure and useful electronic access to their own personal data (e.g. “Blue Button” health data, “Green Button” energy data, IRS’s Get Transcript, and more). Both kinds of initiatives aim to boost entrepreneurship, innovation, and the creation of tools that help Americans find the right health care provider, identify the college that provides the best value for their money, save money on their electricity bills, keep their families safe by knowing which products have been recalled, and more.
    We need an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to keep the momentum going around our open data and MyData efforts. If you are an innovator and want a big challenge with an opportunity to make a big impact, here’s your chance.  
    Round 3 Presidential Innovation Fellows willhave the opportunity to tackle eight exciting Data Innovation projects involving the following agencies:
    • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working to make its vast weather, climate, and earth observation data holdings more easily available and usable in the cloud, to unleash the full potential of these resources, spur economic growth, and help entrepreneurs launch businesses.
    • The Census Bureau collects and produces a wealth of geospatial, demographic, and economic data resources, and is seeking to make its maps and geospatial information easier for the public to access and use.
    • The National Aeronautic and Space Administration is working to make its earth observation data open and machine-readable, and is working to make climate data easier for innovators to find and use to develop new climate resilience tools.
    • The U.S. Department of the Interior is working to make a wide variety of newly catalogued government data, including data about tourism and recreation opportunities on the Nation’s public lands and waters, easy for entrepreneurs and innovators to discover and use.
    • The U.S. Department of Labor, in support of the President’s Skills and Training Data Initiative and Safety Data Initiative, is working to make its job skills and safety information data resources more open, machine-readable, and useful for third parties innovators.
    • The Internal Revenue Service is introducing many new digital services for taxpayers, including making it easier to securely access their own tax account, make mobile payments, check their refund status, or conduct other transactions. The Agency continues to work with its many third party stakeholders to deliver better services in support of tax administration.
    • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, along with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Department of Defense, is partnering with the private sector to expand the Blue Button initiative aimed at empowering consumers with secure access to their own healthcare information—including prescription information, medical claims, and lab data—and is working to support the scaling of the effort across the healthcare and wellness industries.
    • The U.S. Department of Energy is working to accelerate the commercialization of National Laboratory-generated technologies, in part by making information about those technologies easier for the public to find and use.

    For more information and to apply, please visit the Presidential Innovation Fellows program.


    Nick Sinai is U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer             

    Ryan Panchadsaram is Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer   


  • #GeeksGetCovered: A Maker’s Story

    OSTP Geeks Get Covered David Perry

    Oregon-based engineer David Perry playing an open-source 3D printable electronic violin.

    President Obama has said that 3D printing has “the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.” David Perry, an Oregon-based mechanical engineer, couldn’t agree more.  As a self-described “maker”, David is working to develop useful applications for inexpensive 3D printing. One project of his is an open-source “F-F-Fiddle,” a fully 3D printable electronic violin. 
    When the Affordable Care Act became law, David knew that it would be even easier for him to pursue his dream. He knew the health insurance marketplaces would be open, and he could access quality and affordable health care without being tied to an employer. So, starting April 1st, David will have more time to develop great ideas and help encourage everyone to “make”.  David recently enrolled through the Marketplaces, and with the security of affordable, quality health coverage, he has decided to begin working full-time for the startup he founded, OpenFab PDX, which focuses on low-cost digital design and manufacturing tools. 
    As part of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s #GeeksGetCovered, effort we’ll be sharing stories about what access to affordable, quality healthcare means to geeks across America. 
    I recently caught up with David, founder of OpenFabPDX, who shared his story with us on Twitter through @WhiteHouseOSTP’s recently launched #GeeksGetCovered effort:

  • Agencies Abuzz During Sunshine Week

    Sunshine Week launched about a decade ago as a way for journalists to draw attention to the importance of transparency in government. Over the years, open government advocates and government professionals have joined the effort to promote transparency, strengthen our democracy, and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

    As part of Sunshine Week, Federal agencies have been highlighting their open government efforts in a variety of ways.  These include engaging the public and other stakeholders in discussions around open government, hosting trainings for government workers on the importance of implementing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and proactively disclosing additional government records in the public interest.

    While we work year-round on open government efforts, this week we are excited to highlight achievements and progress made on open government goals.  Examples from this week include:

    • The State Department created a dedicated website to provide the public access to deliberations on the Keystone XL proposed pipeline project, hosting links to information about the status of the project, the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, and other project documents.
    • Agencies held training and briefing sessions with FOIA and open government professionals to learn about new open government efforts and brush up on FOIA issues including customer service and processing. For example, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence hosted the Intelligence Community FOIA Officers Information Day which included presentations to FOIA professionals in many of the 17 agencies that comprise the government intelligence community.
    • The United States formally became a candidate for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, an international effort aimed at increasing transparency and accountability of payments companies make and revenues governments receive for their natural resources.
    • The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a memo to agencies directing Federal agencies to develop policies that will improve the management of and access to scientific collections that they own or support—including drilling cores from the ocean floor and glaciers, seeds, space rocks, cells, mineral samples, fossils, and more.

    We are proud of this progress, but recognize that there is always more we can do to build a more efficient, effective, and accountable government.  We look forward to the work ahead and ongoing collaborating with the public to build a more open government.


    Nick Sinai is U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer

    Corinna Zarek is Policy Advisor for Open Government

  • #GeeksGetCovered: Unleashing Entrepreneurship Through Affordable Healthcare

    Last week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy launched #GeeksGetCovered, an effort focused on raising awareness, sharing stories, and encouraging healthcare enrollment among geeks, innovators, and entrepreneurs. 
    This initiative builds on the Obama Administration’s work to help ensure that geeks across the country, those coming up with new discoveries and exciting inventions—and creating jobs along the way—have the freedom and security to keep innovating, not worrying about access to healthcare. 
    As the March 31st deadline for 2014 coverage nears, we’ll be sharing stories about what access to affordable, quality healthcare means to geeks across America. 
    I recently caught up with American entrepreneur Tatyana Kanzaveli, who co-founded the startup Open Cancer Network. She shared her story as a tech entrepreneur and cancer survivor, and discussed how the security of having access to affordable coverage helped her make the decision to start her own company.
    And, while Tatyana’s story is extraordinary, she is not alone. There is strong evidence that when affordable healthcare isn’t exclusively tied to employment, in more instances people choose to start their own companies.  By finding a plan on, more Americans can make the leap to entrepreneurship and pursue their dreams, without worrying that a preexisting condition or new illness will bankrupt their families. 

    Tatyana Kanzaveli, Co-Founder, Open Cancer Network

    How did affordable health coverage enable you to start your first company?
    A year ago, out of nowhere, I was diagnosed with cancer.  The health coverage I had from my previous employer was expiring, so I started calling insurance brokers about how to get coverage as an individual. They all said that because of my cancer diagnosis, I was uninsurable.
    Can you imagine?  I was in shock.  For decades I had been paying premiums, and never used the insurance—and now that I need it, I’m uninsurable?  What am I supposed to do?
    I needed to find any option that would cover me until January 1, when the Affordable Care Act would kick in and eliminate discrimination based on my preexisting condition.  I finally found one option that cost over $1,200 month, and the coverage was horrible, so I had to pay for a lot of my cancer treatment out of pocket – but it was the only way for me to stay insured.
    I applied for Obamacare on Day 1, as soon as my state’s exchange opened up. I got the highest level of coverage, and it cut my premiums in half.
    Now I can be an entrepreneur, and do something I think is important to do.
    What sparked the idea for your company?
    Imagine what it’s like to go in for a regular check-up and be diagnosed with cancer.  I never drank or smoked, I always exercised and had a healthy diet.
    Once I recovered from my shock, I started asking my doctors questions:  “Do you have any hypotheses about why this is happening to me?”  The answer I was given:  “We don’t have hypotheses, because we don’t have data.”
    In my experience, right now, the healthcare system functions in a reactive mode – you get sick, you see a doctor, you get treated.  But your doctors don’t know very much about your family history, your environment, and the stressors you’ve experienced.  
    Our goal is to build the largest and most comprehensive set of nonclinical patient data, in order to improve outcomes for cancer and other chronic diseases. We’re starting by building a mobile-native social network that lets cancer patients connect with similar patients, as well as researchers and physicians with relevant expertise.  If the patient so chooses, she can report data about her mood, level of appetite, and other lifestyle behaviors.
    We correlate this private patient data with massive amounts of open government data, and use powerful algorithms to generate hypotheses based on this data.  This will allow hospitals and scientists to do unprecedented research on the causes of disease, and will allow patients to get better treatment.
    What was your path to becoming an entrepreneur?
    I grew up in Azerbaijan in the former Soviet Union, where I earned a Master’s degree in computer science and became a programmer at the Academy of Science there.  When war broke out in 1989, I fled to the United States with my husband and three-year-old daughter.  We were refugees living in an empty apartment, but I was incredibly lucky – two weeks after we arrived, a friend called me and said, “I just had a job interview.  I didn’t pass it, but I thought of you.”  
    I’d never had a job interview before.  I was clueless, and my English was just okay.  I barely understood what the interviewer was saying, but when he gave me half an hour to look at his company’s code, I thought:  “Oh, I can speak that language!”  The next day, I was hired.
    I eventually worked as a technologist at some very large companies, and then took on various roles at technology startups, including as CEO. I had mentored a great many startups along the way, but never started my own!
    I’m finding that the most satisfaction you can get is when you start your own company.
    Have you encountered any other entrepreneurs who needed affordable health coverage to get started?
    Absolutely – for one, my co-founder Maksim Tsvetovat. I got to know Max through his academic work on data science.  He has a wife and small child, so it was very daunting for him to quit his job and lose that health coverage.  But he was able to get a high-quality plan through the Affordable Care Act, and this made it possible for us to launch our startup.
    For me, the impact of affordable healthcare has been profound. 
    Doug Rand is Assistant Director for Entrepreneurship at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy 


  • Fossils, Seeds, and Space Rocks: Improving the Management of and Access to the Nation’s Scientific Collections

    Scientific Collections 1

    Collections manager David Furth shows some of the diversity in the insect collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. (Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution)

    In a memorandum released today, OSTP Director John P. Holdren directs Federal agencies to develop policies that will improve the management of and access to scientific collections that they own or support.

    Scientific collections are assemblies of physical objects that are valuable for research and education—including drilling cores from the ocean floor and glaciers, seeds, space rocks, cells, mineral samples, fossils, and more. Federal agencies develop and maintain scientific collections as records of our past and investments in our future.

    These collections are public assets. They play an important role in promoting public health and safety, homeland security, trade, and economic development, medical research, resource management, education, and environmental monitoring.

    They are studied across diverse fields of research and are used and re-used to validate and extend past research results as new analytical techniques develop. For the American public, students, and teachers, they are also treasure troves of information ripe for exploration and learning.  

    And there is no better time to highlight this important new policy than Sunshine Week – an annual celebration of transparency and public participation in government.

    The memorandum released today fulfills the requirements of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 that called on OSTP to develop “policies for the management and use of Federal scientific collections to improve the quality, organization, access, including online access, and long-term preservation of such collections for the benefit of the scientific enterprise.”

  • Building a More Open Government

    It’s Sunshine Week again—a chance to celebrate transparency and participation in government and freedom of information. Every year in mid-March, we take stock of our progress and where we are headed to make our government more open for the benefit of citizens.

    In December, 2013, the Administration announced 23 ambitious commitments to further open up government over the next two years in U.S. Government’s  second Open Government National Action Plan. Those commitments are now all underway or in development, including:

    ·         Launching an improved The updated debuted in January, 2014, and continues to grow with thousands of updated or new government data sets being proactively made available to the public.

    ·         Increasing public collaboration: Through crowdsourcing, citizen science, and other methods, Federal agencies continue to expand the ways they collaborate with the public. For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, for instance, recently launched its third Asteroid Grand Challenge, a broad call to action, seeking the best and brightest ideas from non-traditional partners to enhance and accelerate the work NASA is already doing for planetary defense. 

    ·         Improving We the People: The online petition platform We the People gives the public a direct way to participate in their government and is currently incorporating improvements to make it easier for the public to submit petitions and signatures.

    At the same time we have made important progress to improve the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – which provides the public with a statutory right to request and receive information from their government. Agencies are receiving more requests each year. In fiscal year 2013, agencies received more than 700,000 FOIA requests, up 8 percent from the previous year, and processed 678,000 requests, also an increase from the previous year. In the past five years, agencies have processed more than 3.1 million FOIA requests. FOIA continues to be a priority for the Administration in a variety of ways, and we are committed to further modernizing the process:

    ·         Engaging with the Public: Today there are number of avenues through which government leaders and FOIA professionals can directly interact with the public. For example, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) now host quarterly FOIA Requester Roundtables with government FOIA professionals and FOIA requesters.

    ·         Recognizing FOIA Expertise: FOIA professionals were recently “professionalized” into their own field, in terms of job categories offered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). OPM created the new 0306 Government Information Specialist job series which recognizes the importance of these skills and positions.

    ·         Establishing a FOIA Ombudsman: The Office of Government Information Services opened in 2009 to introduce dispute resolution into the FOIA process and has now assisted with thousands of FOIA inquiries and disputes from agencies and the public.

    There is much to celebrate this Sunshine Week but still much more work to be done. We look forward to continuing to work together to identify ways to build a more efficient, effective, and accountable government.


    Corinna Zarek is Policy Advisor for Open Government