Open Government Initiative Blog

  • COMPETES Act Births Innovation Initiative for Health IT

    Today, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) announced the Investing in Innovations (i2) initiative – an exciting new $5 million program to spur health IT innovations through prizes, challenges, and other mechanisms to improve the health care of all Americans. 

    The core of this bold initiative will be a series of prize competitions – up to 15 each year – that will accelerate innovation and adoption of health IT for improved clinical outcomes and efficient care delivery. For example, a prize competition under i2 might challenge software developers to build new tools for the seamless exchange of health information among hospitals, clinics, and physicians with tailored privacy settings or to create new “blue button” apps that enable patients to download and reuse their clinical information.

    This bold initiative leverages the new prize authority in the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 to execute on the President’s call for agencies to increase their use of prizes and challenges to spur innovation and solve tough problems.  The ONC Investing in Innovations initiative is a harbinger of a new paradigm in which – under the America COMPETES Act – prize competitions become a strategic tool in every agency’s innovation portfolio.

    The i2 initiative builds on the success of prize competitions under the Department of Health and Human Services Community Health Data Initiative and the SMART Apps for Health challenge that closed last week.  SMART (Substitutable Medical Apps, Reusable Technologies) is one of several research projects supported by ONC through their SHARP R&D initiative and is focused on the notion that an open platform could transform the health IT market by reducing the distribution costs for entrepreneurs.

    With just a modest $5,000 prize and a 90-day competition, the SMART Apps for Health challenge attracted over 300 supporters and 15 quality submissions, garnered a wide level of attention,and attracted a wide field of innovators, with what promises to be a significant catalyst for spurring a breakthrough, innovative health IT platform.  Contestants ranged from established companies to clinical researchers, to individual innovators. The creative submissions included specialized tools that enable clinical decision support through diagnostic applications, clinical dashboards that link EMRs with immunization registry and syndromic surveillance data, and multi-use applications that support clinical workflow and medical record annotation.

    A star panel of judges is currently in a spirited debate as to which of the compelling submissions will go home with the prize. But on June 22nd, I’m convinced the real winners will be the care delivery system as the stories of what is possible attract new talent and ideas to bear on the future of health IT.  We look forward to engaging this fast-growing community through the Investing in Innovation initiative in the months to come.

    Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • Open Government Plans' Anniversary is a Testament to Hard Work at Agencies

    One year ago today, in response to the President’s Open Government Initiative, agencies released their open government plans. It is hard to overstate the importance of these plans because they serve as a roadmap for how agencies intend to embed a culture of open government into how they carry out their day-to-day missions. 

    Over the past year, agencies have been hard at work implementing these plans and the results have been truly impressive.  For example, agencies are:

    1. Releasing data.  For years, agencies have collected data in support of their particular missions.  But before the ubiquitous use of technology, data often sat in filing cabinets and agency basements.  Now, agencies such as the Social Security Administration have data inventory plans for releasing high-value data.  As of March 2011, has more than 379,000 data sets of useful information. 
    2. Convening citizen developers.  Whether you call them geeks or techies , some of the greatest innovations in government have been the result of citizen developers who simply want to do their part to make our government work better.  From the Department of Health and Human Services’ Community Data Health Initiative to “Transportation Camps”—“un-meetings aimed at solving transportation problems—throughout the United States, citizens are using their talents to help make government data that are simply lying around actually work for the American people. 
    3. Sponsoring Prizes and Challenges.  One of the most important events in Open Government in 2010 was passage of the America COMPETES Act reauthorization, which provided important legal authorities to Federal agencies wishing to sponsor challenges and prizes.  The government’s new portal is helping agencies and departments do just that and, as of March 2011, has helped highlight more than 75 prizes and challenges. 
    4. Putting Entrepreneurs to Work!  Open government has strengthened the United States’ reputation for being the most innovative and entrepreneurial country in the world.  Many open government plans have laid out procedures for releasing high-value datasets that can spur new opportunities for economic growth.  For example,  Brightscope—a provider of 401K-related financial intelligence—has  taken the Department of Labor’s data about employee fees being paid for their retirement plans and built a  successful information business, giving jobs to more than 30 employees in the last year.  Similarly, the Small Business Administration’s revamped Open Government website provides a wealth of new information to help catalyze economic opportunity for small business.

    These are just a few of the initiatives that open government plans have helped to launch in the past year.  According to an independent assessment, there are more than 350 ongoing open government initiatives operating across the Federal government!  And several agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, are continually updating their open government webpages with revised plans, quarterly reports, news, and other tools to track progress and receive feedback.

    While there is always more to be done, we are proud of the important work that agencies have done and are doing to change the culture of government to one that encourages transparency and facilitates innovation.  We are committed to maintaining and building upon this momentum to make our Nation stronger and to make the lives of Americans better.

    Chris Vein is the Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer for Government Innovation


  • Access to Capital: Fueling Business Growth and Job Creation

    Ed. Note: As part of the Startup America: Reducing Barriers Roundtable series, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and U.S. Small Business Administrator Karen Mills will take your questions and suggestions about what processes and regulations we need to adjust to foster a more nurturing environment for entrepreneurship and innovation.  Watch and participate today at 12:00pm EDT on

    I had the pleasure yesterday of sitting down with nearly 100 leading entrepreneurs, investors, underwriters, academics, and fund managers—including Chuck Newhall, the legendary co-Founder of one of the Nation’s most prestigious venture capital firms, New Enterprise Associates—at the Treasury Department’s Access to Capital Conference.  The event was one of a number of creative forums the Administration has held to generate new, actionable ideas to ensure that small businesses have the resources to achieve high growth.

    The event built on President Obama’s January launch of Startup America, an initiative to celebrate, inspire, and accelerate high-growth American entrepreneurship that includes a number of commitments to expand access to capital for entrepreneurs. Capital, invested by the private sector, is what helps entrepreneurs realize their dreams and turn ideas into startups, and it’s what turns small businesses into fast-growing companies that create jobs and fuel sustainable economic growth.    

    At yesterday’s conference, we took an important step forward in that mission with an open and honest dialogue about how best to cultivate investment and growth.  And we made real progress. 

  • Three Trends on Fostering Innovation through Open Government

    Last Sunday, economist Dick Thaler wrote an article in the New York Times highlighting the many ways innovators are using government data to create platforms, applications, and other useful tools that touch the lives of our friends and neighbors. As we celebrate Sunshine Week, we thought we’d reflect on the intersection of our open government initiative and the President’s Strategy for American Innovation.

    We are focused on three trends that are fostering government innovation: 

    1. The Rise of a New Information Intermediary Industry: The release of government data has contributed to a new category of products and services designed to make information more relevant and useful to a variety of audiences. Reflecting the market potential, venture capitalists have backed firms like Socrata and Infochimps that repurpose open data sets for developers and others to quickly and easily put them to good use. Think of this industry as competing to provide the “last-mile” of information service to help consumers, companies, and stakeholders keenly interested in effective, efficient government.
    2. The Incorporation of Data in New Products and Services: An emerging trend aligned with the President’s strategy to “out-innovate” our economic competitors is the incorporation of open data into new products and services. We’ve previously written about Brightscope, which has now grown into a multi-million-dollar information business supporting over 30 employees. This past weekend, at the Startup America session at SXSW, noted early-stage investor Vinod Khosla shared the story of his participation in a $42 million investment in Weatherbill, an insurance company helping farmers to adapt to climate change, powered by real-time information freely available through the National Weather Service.
    3. The Extension of Government Platforms: Agencies are increasingly inviting third party developers to extend the value of government websites or to solve specific problems through platforms like, which as of March 2011 showcased 75 prizes, including the SMART Apps for Health. The Commerce Department, in collaboration with the FCC, recently launched The National Broadband Map to shine light on coverage gaps, including developer tools to extend the value of the platform. An early adopter - the Department of Education - published a “mashup” incorporating school data so communities are empowered to ensure that their children are equipped for the jobs of the future.

    These trends reflect great promise for open government as a catalyst for productivity growth. But they also point to a new phenomenon - the rise of citizen developers. At a recent “Transportation Camp” in New York City, concerned citizens met with government transportation leaders to discuss transportation issues at the Federal and local level.  We learned an alarming statistic: almost 3 out of 4 parents improperly install their child safety seat.   Others at the Camp were concerned too, so much so that one member of the audience created a mobile app that now allows parents to find the nearest inspection stationwhere professionals can install their child seatsecurely, improving access to an existing government website.

    President Obama is committed to ensuring that the 21st century does not leave the Federal government behind.  We’re  using technology to save money, create a more participatory government, and to make a real different in the lives of all Americans, from informing your family about recalls to finding new and fun ways to get the whole family to eat healthy and stay active.  Stay tuned for more.

    Aneesh Chopra is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer

    Chris Vein is the Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer for Government Innovation

  • Sunshine, Savings, and Service

    For too long, the Federal Government has failed to effectively harness the power and potential of information technology (IT)  -- despite spending approximately $80 billion dollars on IT each year, and more than $600 billion over the past decade.  As a result, it has lagged far behind the private sector in the reaping the gains in productivity and enhancements in service from IT.  To get a better return on this investment for the American people, we have fundamentally altered the way we manage the federal government's IT projects -- using transparency to shed light on government operations and to hold government managers accountable for results.

    Download Video: mp4 (47MB)

    On my first day on the job, at the beginning of the Obama Administration, I was handed a portfolio that included $27 Billion in IT projects that were years behind schedule, and over budget. I quickly found that the sheer size of the portfolio often led to a sense of faceless accountability and quickly set out to fix that. That’s why just months after President Obama took office, we launched the IT Dashboard (June, 2009) – which provides a clear window into Federal IT projects, bolstering transparency and accountability.  The IT Dashboard shines a light on these projects, including if they are on schedule and within budget -- and posting the photo and name of the official responsible -- and agencies continue to increase transparency and improve data quality.

  • Investing in Open Government to Create A More Efficient and Effective Government

    Ed. Note: This post is part of our Sunshine Week series, a national initiative to celebrate and focus on government transparency and open government.

    Federal agencies collect enormous amounts of data about such diverse matters as automobile safety, air travel, air quality, workplace safety, drug safety, nutrition, crime, obesity, the employment market, and health care.  The Obama Administration has made it a priority to share this and other government information – what the President has called a “national asset” – to improve citizen education and decision-making, and to spur innovation and job creation.  

    Federal agencies are working hard to foster open government, and we encourage you to examine what they have done. For example:

    • The Department of Homeland Security created “Virtual USA,” enabling public safety officials across all levels of government to share information in real time, and improve response to national disasters. 
    • The Department of Energy, as part of its efforts to promote clean energy, launched, containing dozens of clean energy resources and data sets, including maps of worldwide solar and wind potential, information on climate zones, and energy best practices.  The Department intends to expand these resources to include on-line training and technical expert networks.
    • The Environmental Protection Agency, together with other federal, state, local, and tribal agencies, developed, offering the public daily Air Quality Index forecasts and real-time Air Quality Index conditions for over 300 cities across the country as well as links to detailed state and local air quality cites.
    • And six federal agencies—the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the EPA—created, to alert the public to unsafe, hazardous, or defective products and up-to-date consumer safety information.

    Throughout the week, will continue highlighting the Administration’s commitment to open government, including the accomplishments of three other departments  – Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, and Transportation.  We hope you will take a moment to read these blog posts.  What unites these federal agencies is that they all consider open government to be a long-term investment in building a stronger democracy and creating a more efficient and effective government. 

    Chris Lu is Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary