Open Government Initiative Blog

  • Moving to the Cloud

    Today, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board announced that it is moving to the cloud. As the world’s largest consumer of information technology and as stewards of taxpayer dollars, the Federal Government has a duty to be a leader in pioneering the use of new technologies that are more efficient and economical.

    For those of you not familiar with cloud computing, here is a brief explanation. There was a time when every household, town, or village had its own water well. Today, shared public utilities give us access to clean water by simply turning on the tap. Cloud computing works a lot like our shared public utilities. However, instead of water coming from a tap, users access computing power from a pool of shared resources. Just like the tap in your kitchen, cloud computing services can be turned on or off as needed, and, when the tap isn’t on, not only can the water be used by someone else, but you aren’t paying for resources that you don’t use.  Cloud computing is a new model for delivering computing resources – such as networks, servers, storage, or software applications. is the first government-wide system to move to the cloud. The move is part of the Administration’s overall efforts to cut waste and fix or end government programs that don’t work. By migrating to the public cloud, the Recovery Board is in position to leverage many advantages including the ability keep the site up as millions of Americans help report potential fraud, waste, and abuse. The Board expects savings of about $750,000 during its current budget cycle and significantly more savings in the long-term.

    In April, HHS leveraged cloud computing to support implementation of Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems. To coordinate healthcare providers’ implementation of new Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems, HHS is deploying a cloud-based customer relationship and project management solution provided by The solutions will support HHS’s Regional Extension Centers in assisting doctors and rural hospitals in the selection, implementation and meaningful use of EHRs. Various implementation approaches can be analyzed to quickly identify best practices for EHR implementation as they emerge.

    By using cloud services, the Federal Government will gain access to powerful technology resources faster and at lower costs. This frees us to focus on mission-critical tasks instead of purchasing, configuring, and maintaining redundant infrastructure.

    The Obama Administration is committed to leveraging the power of cloud computing to help close the technology gap and deliver for the American people. I am hopeful that that the Recovery Board’s move to the cloud will serve as a model for making government’s use of technology smarter, better, and faster.

    Vivek Kundra is U.S. Chief Information Officer

  • What do you do?

    "Nice to meet you. What do you do?"

    For many, this is one of the first conversations we have when meeting someone new. But our jobs are more than simply a topic of conversation -- they are an important part of our lives. They can be an extension of us and a matter of pride.  What we “do” is part of who we are.

    So now that we’ve met, I’d like to hear more about your job.

    Here’s your chance to tell me, and the world, about your work through the Department of Labor’s Career Video Challenge.

    We are asking America to create short videos highlighting 15 in-demand occupations including nursing, medical lab technicians, weatherization, carpentry, steamfitting and more.

    Our Employment and Training Administration staff will narrow it down to the top three videos in each field -- but the final choice is up to you. Your votes will determine the $1,000 cash prize winner in each field.

    Through June 18, you can submit your entries on the Department of Labor website.

    Some of these occupations have been around for ages and others are just emerging. The one thing they all have in common - the potential for growth.

    In today’s competitive environment, America’s job seekers face tough choices. For those that are thinking about their first job or those that are changing directions mid-career, it’s important to find a job that’s a good fit. These videos will help provide a firsthand look into all the opportunities available.

    So tell your story. Be creative. What’s the best part of your day? How did you get into your career and what keeps you coming back? What skills and experience do you need to succeed?

    I can’t wait to see what you come up with. June 18 is right around the corner, so check out the site, review the occupations, read the rules for the contest, and get filming!

    Hilda Solis is the Secretary of Labor.

  • Leading the Open Government Movement at NASA

    Ed. Note: This is the first in a series of in-depth profiles of open government plans from across the Executive Branch.

    For over 50 years, NASA has nurtured and developed a rich culture of openness, fostering collaboration among scientists and sharing with the public at large the excitement surrounding scientific discoveries, aeronautics, and space. Open government is an integral part of our culture, and NASA is excited to be a leader in these efforts for the U.S. government. 

    Our commitment to experimenting with and embracing new ways of collaboration begins with our efforts to infuse innovation into the U.S. space program.  The process for the Human Spaceflight Review in 2009 led to policies that incorporated citizen involvement and feedback, and the development of NASA’s Open Government Plan relied upon tools to ensure citizen engagement.

    We continue to embrace collaboration for all of our communities – from citizen scientists and inventors to the public at large, from NASA’s workforce of scientists and engineers to NASA’s community of partners. We’re excited about all of these initiatives and invite your participation.  Each of the efforts described below offer a link to their fact sheet in the Open Government plan which includes ways to get involved.

    For citizen scientists and innovators, we have created a prize program and avenues for talented and interested members of the public to contribute to NASA programs in a meaningful way. We believe that making space exploration exciting and manageable will create advocates, ambassadors, and a volunteer technical community to assist in space exploration. These efforts include:

    • NASA’s highly successful Centennial Challenges prize program has engaged innovators from around the country to successfully build prototypes of technology and innovation for use in the space and aeronautics sector.
    • NASA is establishing a new Participatory Exploration Office, which will be charged with infusing more public participation into NASA’s mission in order to directly engage citizens in exploration.
    • Every single science mission stores and archives all data received from spacecraft. NASA has decades of publicly available data. NASA’s Open Government Plan commits to making this data more easily accessible and user-friendly.
    • NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been working with Harvard University, InnoCentive, and others to facilitate open innovation approaches into the research portfolio.

    For the public at large, we have communicated our programs through our website, blogs, or the NASA Television channel. We have a rich Education and Outreach portfolio with resources for museums and teachers. More recently, we have experimented with microblogging, social photo sharing and ideation tool to allow the public to communicate and share information with NASA. These efforts include:

    • Social engagement tools to collect hundreds of ideas for improving the agency's openness and transparency;
    • Giving the public live access to its missions through NASA TV and its many social media sites; and
    • NASA’s education outreach program includes initiatives where students have opportunities to control space instruments remotely.

    NASA is primarily a workforce of scientists and engineers, and as such we have created communities of practice to stimulate internal and external collaboration.  We listened to our software engineers and created the NASA Open Source Agreement (NOSA) so that we could share our technology with those outside of government and, in turn, have them share their tools with us for the common benefit of the space program.  As a result, we also learn from the commercial sector and infuse new innovations into NASA quickly and if appropriate, integrate them into our contracts. These efforts include:

    • The NASA Engineering Network is an integrated suite of tools from 45 engineering repositories and 1.4 million records with a Lessons Learned Information System of official NASA vetted lessons, encouraging internal communities of practice formed along engineering disciplines;
    • Through a new policy initiative, NASA is working to make open source software development more collaborative for the benefit of the agency and the public;
    • NASA has created "Nebula," the U.S. government’s first open source cloud computing platform, which offers an easier way for NASA scientists and researchers to share large, complex data sets with external partners and the public; and 
    • NASA is one of the leading Federal Agencies using Social Media and is piloting new technologies and tools (like Macs and iPads) to enhance worker productivity and attract the next generation of workers. 

    For NASA partners, NASA has been open for business and partnerships for decades and allows us to transfer our technologies to other sectors while also infusing innovations into NASA’s program.  We share our technical reports, patents, and open technology with universities, start-ups, and corporations with the intent to stimulate the economy. These efforts include:

    • NASA uses Space Act Agreements as the primary vehicle for partnering with partners like  Google, General Motors, and European Space Agency. Space Act Agreements allow access to a wider range of technologies and capabilities that are not part of NASA's core competency;
    • The NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS) is a public database of NASA's current and historical technical literature. NTRS provides access to approximately 500,000 aerospace related citations, 90,000 full-text online documents, and 111,000 images and videos; and
    • NASA transfers technology to the private sector and state and local governments by actively seeking licensees. More than 1,600 such technology transfer successes have been documented in NASA's Spinoff Magazine over the years, which include commercial applications in health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, agriculture, environmental resources, computer technology, manufacturing, and energy conversion and use.

    All of these efforts are detailed in NASA’s Open Government Plan, representing a new chapter in NASA’s culture of openness and an exciting collaborative effort between citizens, advocacy groups, NASA employees, and of course, between agencies. This is the beginning of a movement in government and in space collaboration, where we are creating a learning community as we transform how we do business. We invite your continued thoughts and participation in these efforts, as we work collaboratively to enhance NASA’s transition to a twenty-first century space program.

    Linda Cureton is the Chief Information Officer at NASA.  Beth Robinson is the Chief Financial Officer at NASA.


  • Hardwiring Prizes: Leveraging Public Sector Investments

    We are continuing our live blogging from today's summit on Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenges and Open Grantmaking. The lunch time session was an interview of Vivek Kundra, the U.S. Chief Information Officer, by Micah Sifry, co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum. The interview captured the vision for the Prizes and Challenges Guidance issued by OMB on March 8, 2010.

    Sifry stared off the interview asking Kundra to share his experience running his first challenge approximately two years ago in the District of Columbia. Kundra said that his experience then launching Apps for Democracy gave him more insight into transforming government by simultaneously experimenting with novel procurement processes and, at the same time, engaging the public. Traditionally there have only been two mechanisms, contracts or grants, to drive and unearth innovation from the public sector. Apps for Democracy was an experiment showing that we could find a third way to solving public sector problems – through prizes and challenges. In that case Apps for Democracy received over 40 applications within 30 days, which would have taken much longer under a normal procurement process. In addition it was forecasted that the government saved over $3.6 million from the applications that were created!

    In response to being asked about the vision for the Prizes Guidance, Kundra went on to talk about the more than $70 billion the US Government spends on information technology in the context of a public that expects the efficiency and seemlessness of private sector transactions from sites like Open Table and many others.  The vision for this new guidance is to re-think the traditional way in which IT and other projects are procured and to help drive intelligent investments that are responsive to citizen needs.

    Kundra also pointed out that while we are in the early stages of implementing the Prizes and Challenges Guidance, the idea is to make it easier for agencies to solve problems with another strategy and set of tools. This set of tools doesn’t always have to involve a monetary prize. For example with the SAVE Award Kundra said:

    We didn’t issue a challenge of $1 million, the prize was rather a meeting with the President which generated enormous response. We also want to make sure we have appropriate rules and regulations in place so that we are being good stewards of tax payer dollars… and the platform doesn’t have to be a sophisticated enterprise wide solution, it can be one that is something more lightweight and is a platform that best serves an agency’s mission.

    The long-term goal for the guidance is to instill a notion of a participatory democracy in which you have citizens helping to solve some of the most difficult problems.  In a traditional procurement process, this wouldn’t occur. In addition, where feasible, it is important to engage the public in judging solutions while being aware of balancing the interests of hyperactive communities. Both Sifry and Kundra discussed the evidence that with relatively low amounts of prize funding people will be incentivized to self organize, form partnerships and drive innovative solutions. The guidance was disruptive by design and the President has been clear that he wants to get the best ideas for how government operates from anyone in the country because government should serve the American people. These ideas are not just about finding solutions, but also could be about uncovering problems or inefficiencies.

    Vivek Kundra summed up the end of the interview by reiterating that prizes and challenges are being introduced in the government in a way in which the hope is that this mechanism becomes embedded as part of the culture and to push action beyond just grants or traditional procurement processes. 

    Following Vivek’s speech is a breakout of the 200 or so participants into 17 different lunch tables with wide ranging themes hosted by experts from inside and outside of government (such as NASA, DARPA, Global Giving, Sunlight Labs, Prize4Life, Knight Foundation and many more). The summit can be viewed live here on the Case Foundation website. 

    Vivek Kundra and Micah Sifry

    Micah Sifry, co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, interviews Vivek Kundra, U.S. Chief Information Officer at the Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenges and Open Grantmaking summit. April 30, 2010. (by Jocelyn Augustino)

    Aman Bhandari is a Policy Analyst in the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

  • Live from the White House Summit on Promoting Innovation through Prizes, Challenges and Open Grantmaking

    At today's summit on Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenge and Open Grantmaking, two leading experts on the use of prizes to solve problems addressed the assembled gathering. Leaders from over thirty Federal agencies have come to learn about how to incorporate prizes and incentive-backed challenges into their work of addressing complex policy problems.

    Peter Diamandis, CEO of the X-Prize Foundation, described the importance of prizes to provide the incentives for "radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity." The X PRIZE Foundation is an "educational nonprofit organization whose mission is to create radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity thereby inspiring the formation of new industries, jobs and the revitalization of markets that are currently stuck."

    According to Diamandis, if a new prize is designed correctly it can bring 10-40 fold the size of the purse in innovation. Prizes also create a collaborative and open environment that stimulates innovation. Incentive backed challenges attract "maverick thinkers who challenge normal assumptions" and make heroes of the teams who compete in these paradigm-changing efforts to solve significant social problems like building the ultimate fuel-efficient car or developing a lunar landing vehicle.

    The X-Prize Foundation has established X-Prize Labs at several universities. In these interdisciplinary graduate level courses, students learn about the history of prizes and think about root cause problems. The best ideas they develop may become X-Prizes -- competitions that generally take between 3 and 8 years to win.
    Among the X-Prizes currently underway or being planned include the Progressive Automotive X-Prize, a $10 million purse to be awarded in September 2010 to the teams that win a competition for clean, production-capable vehicles that exceed 100 MPG energy equivalent; a $10 million prize to sequence 100 human genomes in 10 days; a $10 million "African entrepreneurship" prize to the team whose graduates create the most new "beneficial jobs" over 5 years.

    Next Jonathan Bays of McKinsey & Company, and author of the recent report "And the winner is... Capturing the Promise of Philanthropic Prizes" walked the audience through a history of prizes, such as the longitude prize, which awarded $2 million of today's dollars to the inventor who could develop a way of precisely determining a ship’s longitude (1714) and the French government’s food preservation prize that led to long-shelf life canned foods that awarded $44,000 of today's dollars. Prizes have historically been used to solve difficult and pressing problems. Today they are experiencing a resurgence ($250 million in prize capital for prizes of $100,000 or more has been raised since 2000) and offer many strengths. Prizes identify excellence by rewarding path-breaking innovators. They focus a community and public perception on a particular problem. Prizes help to mobilize new talent and pull unexpected people into developing solutions. Often the solvers of prize-backed challenges are the people whom one would least expect to be working in the field. Prizes educate competitors and build skills.  They bring additional capital to problems by mobilizing funds and give innovators access to facilities and resources.

    Bays explained that there are different types of prizes such as participation prizes that bring people together to solve a problem; exemplar prizes like the Nobel or Man Booker prize, network prizes that stimulate the creation of communities and networks that outlast the prize; and exposition prizes like Ashoka Changemakers designed to focus on a specific need. In developing a prize, it is crucial to articulate the goals and objectives before jumping to designing the prize. After the aspirations are defined, then one can develop the prize strategy by identifying stakeholder needs and prize types. The prize elements and prize process -- the precise way in which the prize event will unfold -- can be developed. Equally important, he pointed out, is to spend time designing the post-prize process. That's when the impact of the prize is measured, reinforced and the legacy of the problem and the solutions generated by the prize will be rooted in the community.


    Speakers at the Case Foundation Event

    Peter Diamandis, CEO of the X-Prize Foundation, and Jonathan Bays of McKinsey & Company speak at the summit on Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenge and Open Grantmaking, April 30, 2010. (by Jocelyn Augustino)

    Beth Noveck is United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Director of the White House Open Government Initiative.

  • White House and Case Foundation Host Summit on Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenges and Open Grantmaking

    Ed. note: Beth Noveck and staff from the Office of Science and Technology Policy will be live-blogging from the Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenges and Open Grantmaking summit all day on the Open Government Blog.

    Last month, the Administration issued its Guidance on the Use of Challenges and Prizes to Promote Open Government. The Guidance provides a policy and legal framework for the use of prizes and challenges to promote open government, innovation, and other national priorities. Today the White House and the Case Foundation are hosting a summit on Promoting Innovation: Prizes, Challenges and Open Grantmaking. The day is organized into a combination of presentations and panels, breakout roundtables, and Ignite Sessions all designed to deepen our understanding of how to incorporate prizes and other innovative techniques into the way we solve complex economic and social problems.

    There are over 200 public and private sector participants at this event, learning from one another how to bring innovation to policymaking.

    You can see the program here. While the speeches and panels will be broadcast online next week, today you can watch live interviews with the speakers, including Sonal Shah of the Domestic Policy Council, Peter Diamandis of the X-Prize Foundation, Bonin Bough of PepsiCo, and Jim Shelton of the Department of Education.

    We welcome your participation in this event. Before and during the sessions, you can submit questions via Twitter, using the hashtag #opengov, via email at or by using the interactive chat window on the Case Foundation website available during the sessions.

    Beth Noveck is United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Director of the White House Open Government Initiative.