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'Less RFPs and more APIs'

Megan Smith. Photo by David Sifry - http://www.flickr.com/photos/dsifry/2486059264/sizes/l/in/set-72157604991312132/. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Megan_Smith.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Megan_Smith.jpg

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith (File photo - Wikimedia Commons)

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith wants the government to deliver services just as efficiently as leading technology companies like Google, her former employer.

"The back and front end, all of those pieces of our web services and technologies that we use to run our government need to be that good," Smith said at the Jan. 27 State of the Net conference in Washington, D.C. She specifically cited the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs, two agencies that have had very public problems over the past year, as operations that must live up to that standard.

Using more open source and open application programming interfaces will be essential in that improvement, according to Smith.

"I think it's less RFPs and more APIs in this idea," Smith said. "How can you have a marketplace of government tech where the APIs and data are out there, and people bring solutions?"

"I really believe in open source and open APIs, and what tech communities and open source communities can do," she added.

Smith also said agency-specific innovation labs, like the IDEA Lab stood up by the Health and Human Services Department and the Global Development Lab at the U.S. Agency for International Development, are providing a valuable space for innovators to experiment and create. The private sector has been doing innovation labs "forever," she said, noting that it's important to have a lab or place to "play," and then also an internal review system to evaluate the work coming out of the lab.

"One of the tricks to making something like that is making it big enough … so you have some budget and some people, and you get almost like entrepreneurs in residence who are coming from within or without and working on pilots and prototypes," Smith said.

However, she stressed, it is also important not to provide too many resources, to keep the lab the right size and sustain a start-up feel among team members.

About the Author

Colby Hochmuth is a former staff writer for FCW.

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