Digital Government

What's next for digital government?

Rick Holgate

ATF CIO Rick Holgate predicts a year of going deep rather than broad for digital government. (File photo)

As the Obama administration's Digital Government Strategy enters its second year, the focus will likely be on institutionalizing open data and other initiatives rather than on a set of all-new deliverables. One potential change in the works is requiring agencies to report on how their investments advance the government's open-data policies on the Exhibit 300 documents that catalog IT investments, said Rick Holgate, CIO at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"The traditional digital 300s will start to include some considerations around what an investment is doing relative to open data and ask, 'Have you architected this investment to incorporate open data and APIs?'" Holgate said May 14 at the FOSE conference and expo sponsored by FCW parent company 1105 Media. Already the departments of Homeland Security and Justice, of which ATF is a component, are starting to ask questions about open data internally as they plan IT investments, Holgate said.

Some of the work done in the past year has helped accelerate governmentwide adoption of digital government practices. For example, the requirement that agencies have common pages for developers helped create a "community of people who were interested in development and de facto standards for info going on those pages," said Gwynne Kostin, director of the Digital Services Innovation Center at the General Services Administration.

Holgate attributed some of the hiccups and missed deadlines in implementing new policies to "being overly optimistic in terms of what it takes to get out a governmentwide policy in certain areas."

The planned bring-your-own-device policy was released as a toolkit that offers agencies a menu of sample policies to consider. A policy on open data, due in November, was released just last week but with the added heft of an executive order from President Barack Obama requiring a shift to open-data standards. The six-month deadline "turned out to be pretty aggressive for something that ambitious and sweeping," Holgate said. With the data plan in place, there is an opportunity to dig into how information is presented on government sites. Kostin said her group plans to issue some recommendations on user experience in the next month or so. "Data policy gives us the impetus to talk about open content, the way it can be device-agnostic and screen size-agnostic, and really separating the content from the presentation layers," she said.

The administration has touted the open-data policy as a potential engine for private-sector growth, with commercial developers using government data to create new companies and jobs. However, another important component is streamlining government operations. The Justice Department, for example, doesn't have too many public-facing datasets beyond crime statistics, Holgate said. However, the use of open and machine-readable data presents the criminal justice agencies with opportunities to collaborate and eliminate duplicative effort.

For example, interactions among criminal offenders and law enforcement agencies, the courts, prisons, and parole officials are not centralized, but open data provides a path to connect those data sources. "This has nothing to do with public-facing data," Holgate said. "It's our own ability to be more open with ourselves about how we share information throughout that criminal justice life cycle."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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