VA highlights IT innovation, crowdsourcing in open government plan

Department will set up ongoing innovation competition

The Veterans Affairs Department is highlighting an ongoing innovation contest, a new employee crowdsourcing Web site and a “blue button” in development for patients to download their own online health information as parts of its new open government plan.

“Candidly, VA has not always been the model for government performance or service delivery,” states the VA’s open government plan released April 8. The VA's leaders are striving to remake the department’s culture so that it is “open, transparent, participatory, and collaborative,” the plan said.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has designated Peter Levin, VA’s Chief Technology Officer, as the senior official in charge of the open government initiatives. The plan said the VA intends to report progress on 25 open government initiatives on its online VA Information Technology Dashboard, with deadlines for the next reports ranging from May to October.

For example, the VA this summer intends to introduce what it calls its flagship VA Innovation Initiative to create an ongoing competition building on the success of two recent VA innovation contests.

In August 2009, the Veterans Benefits Administration sponsored a contest for collecting ideas to improve claims processing. More than 7,000 employees submitted 3,000 ideas. In February 2010, 45,000 employees of the Veterans Health Administration submitted 6,500 ideas to improve health IT systems, casting 500,000 votes for the best ideas.

Separately, the VA also hopes to garner more “crowdsourcing” feedback from employees on a soon-to-be-created Open Government Online Employee Forum, which is expected to make its next progress report in July. Along with the forum the VA will release an Innovation Toolkit to help its employees implement open government improvements.

The VA said it is working with the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services to participate in discussions on the feasibility of creating standards for a downloadable “blue button” to help patients access their health information online. The blue button would be accessible in online health data portals, allowing for direct download of patient health information. Vendors are being encouraged to provide feedback on further development. The next meeting is planned for May.

Also in the works at the VA are plans for an Online Communication Hub to facilitate news and information for veterans, family members and the public. The department also wants to improve online availability of VA rulemaking information and benefits information.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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