18F: Open source and transparent processes -- who says government has to be old fashioned, slow and inefficient?
In an earlier post, I described USDS and 18F, new government agencies that are intended to improve US e-government in the wake of the HealthCare.Gov debacle. USDS is a management consulting firm for federal agencies that favors lean startup methods, open source and agile development by small teams. 18F complements USDS -- they build tools and implement government systems.
You can check 18F's open source projects at the "alpha" version of their project dashboard. As shown here, they currently have twelve projects in various stages of development.
Scrolling down, one sees the entries for each of the 12 current projects. For example, they are building a portal for submitting and searching for Freedom of Information Act requests for the Justice Department. (Note that the department is a partner not a client).
The project descriptions have links to pages where you can see and contribute to the code, discuss the project with the developers and the public, and read a news release describing the project.
18F is not unique. The UK Government Digital Service has the goal of "transforming government services to make them more efficient and effective for users." They were formed several years ago in response to dissatisfaction with the British Health System Web site. You can learn more in this NPR story.
18F and the UK Government Digital Service have something very important in common -- they are staffed by skilled experts who could be making more money in the private sector but have elected (perhaps temporary) government service. I saw the same thing in a study of the Internet in Singapore where the "best and the brightest," went to government service.
How great would it be if all of government were staffed by the same sort of people?
The Defence Department and Homeland Security hope to attract tech talent from Silicon Valley and elsewhere to help with security and other applications. This initiative "stems directly from the President," who has turned to modern technology and methods in political campaigns, debugging the Healthcare.gov site when it was in trouble and more. The pitch is to "take your skills and work for team America."