Open Government Initiative Blog

  • 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

  • Sunshine Week 2011 and Our Ongoing Commitment to Open Government

    This week is “Sunshine Week.”  Led by the American Society of News Editors and originally funded by the Knight Foundation, Sunshine Week is observed by media organizations around the country. It coincides with National Freedom of Information Day—March 16—selected to fall on James Madison’s birthday.  Journalists, good-government groups, transparency advocates, educators, and many others interested in government transparency host events throughout the week to promote open government and freedom of information. They do so to assess the extent to which government is truly open, and to encourage citizens to seek information from their government and participate in public affairs. 

    Sunshine Week provides an ideal time to recount the Administration’s many open government successes since last March.  And so each day this week, we will identify various ways in which agencies have made our government more open and, in turn, more democratic and more efficient. On Monday, the Department of Justice launched, and we reviewed some of the substantial progress agencies across the government have made to disclose more and withhold less. We will recount, among other things, how greater transparency has saved government resources, and how technology and openness have been fused in ways that improve the everyday lives of our citizens.  We will also feature the enormous work many agencies have done over the past year to make government more open and foster public participation.  As the examples are too numerous to catalogue here, I encourage you to visit agencies’ own Open Government websites, which feature their recent successes.

    Open government is a commitment, though, not a task. Thus the Administration’s efforts to promote open government are, as they should be, still ongoing. Nor is greater transparency desirable in every case and circumstance. Our government also owes its citizens, among other things, protection of their personal privacy and business confidentiality, effective law enforcement, and a strong national defense.  That understood, the Administration’s commitment to open government, and the great progress it has made so far, are unmistakable.

    Steve Croley is Special Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy

  • SMArt Prize for Patients, Physicians, and Researchers

    This week a research team at Children’s Hospital of Boston and Harvard Medical School launched a prize to encourage innovative app developers to build new products and services that benefit patients and providers. The prize was created with funding from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT within the Department of Health and Human Services, and constitutes just the latest in a growing number of examples of the Federal government fostering R&D collaboration through open innovation.

    The SMArt Prize competition could speed innovation in any number of areas. Developers might build a medication manager, a health risk detector, a laboratory visualization tool, or an app that integrates, in real time, patient data with external data sources—such as publication data in PubMed, CDC statistics, environmental data, financial data available at In doing so, SMArt promises to help patients, doctors, and others realize the full potential of information technology to help transform how we manage health and healthcare.

    The best app developed for the SMArt API by May 31 will win a $5,000 prize, as determined by an all-star panel of judges including:

    • Susannah Fox (Director of Health Research, Pew Internet & American Life Project)
    • Regina Herzlinger (Nancy R. McPherson Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School)
    • David C. Kibbe (Chair, ASTM International E31 Technical Committee on Healthcare Informatics; Principal, The Kibbe Group LLC; Senior Advisor, American Academy of Family Physicians)
    • Ben Shneiderman (Professor of Computer Science at the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory, University of Maryland, College Park)
    • Doug Solomon (Chief Technology Officer, IDEO)
    • Edward Tufte (Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Statistics, and Computer Science, Yale University)
    • Jim Walker (Chief Health Information Officer, Geisinger Health Systems)

    This endeavor is an example of why I share Bryan Roberts’ view that the stage is now set for dramatic jumps in healthcare innovation.  The evolving ecosystem of health IT will be further expanded by modular architectures, open APIs and the applications that can engage them.  This development will dramatically expand the market for health IT by offering applications that can meet any niche and any need - from individual consumers to small practices to large organizations—thereby  making the transformative power of health IT felt more fully and broadly. 

    We look forward to celebrating all those who compete! 

    Aneesh Chopra is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer

  • Social Security 101: It’s There For You!

    More than seventy-five years ago, Social Security began with a promise to protect all Americans from a life of poverty in old age.  Since then, the program’s protections have grown to cover other life events, like disability, the loss of a loved one, or severe financial hardship.  Many Americans may think Social Security is only about retirement, but it actually can benefit people well before they retire. 

    Now the Social Security Administration is teaming up with President Obama’s Open Government initiative to help educate Americans about these important benefits. Open Government—built on the principles of transparency and public participation—has been a hallmark of this Administration and continues to engage Americans in a dialogue about their government and what it does on their behalf.  To this end, the Social Security Administration will host a webinar, Social Security 101: What’s In It For Me?  on March 10th at 3pm EST/Noon PST.  Viewers will gain a better understanding of how Social Security provides support through both unexpected and predictable life events. Participants will connect through an interactive, online medium and get answers to questions like, “What’s that FICA tax that comes out of my paycheck?” and “Why do I need to start planningnow for my financial future?”

    The webinar will be geared especially towards college students and young workers—many of whom may not realize what Social Security has to offer—but it will also be an opportunity for people of all ages to learn more about one of this country’s most important programs.

    Watch, learn something new, and join the conversation.  RSVP and view the webinar here.

    Frank Baitman is the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the Social Security Administration

    Aneesh Chopra is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer