Open gov: So far, so good, but further still to go

GSA's David McClure discusses the state of open government and the importance of customer service.

David McClure’s job is to help federal agencies keep pace with the latest technologies, including social media, collaboration platforms and mobile applications, so they can use those technologies to better communicate with the public.

McClure was appointed associate administrator of the General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Communications — later re-established as the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies — in August 2009. Since then, he has been carrying out initiatives in Web 2.0 technologies, cloud computing and open government. His key projects include Challenge.gov for collective problem solving and the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program for assessing and authorizing cloud computing services and products.

Before joining GSA, McClure was managing vice president of Gartner's government research team. He also spent 18 years as an auditor at the Government Accountability Office. He met recently with staff writer Alice Lipowicz to discuss the state of open government and the importance of customer service.

FCW: What do you see as some of your major accomplishments so far at GSA?

McClure: It’s been an exciting two years. I thought there was a unique opportunity to do some exciting work at GSA, and it has really paid off.

When I came here, one of the first things I did was redesign USA.gov. It had an old look and feel and really needed a fresh face. We made USA.gov graphically oriented, with rotating panes and a huge search capability. We also have put more than 50 mobile applications on that site.

My office is the tip of the spear for open government. We try to coordinate and use technology and leverage it across the agencies. We can free up time and come up with a single way to do it that is efficient, lowers costs and improves uniformity in the use of IT.

In less than 120 days, we put up two tools to help accomplish mission-specific outcomes. One was IdeaScale, which was a platform to run the public dialogues about the agency open-government plans. It was policy compliant and was being used by 23 departments and agencies at relatively no cost.

The other tool was Challenge.gov, which is a website where agencies can create contests to solve a problem or build an application. It was done at no cost to the government. There are about 90 challenges on the site right now. Both tools show how government can leverage small, agile technology.

FCW: How would you describe the status of federal use of social media, and where is it headed?

McClure: Overall, it is pretty positive. Being able to interact with the public via social media tools opens up another door of communication. Instead of coming on our website — on our terms — our information is distributed through these communities. The dissemination of information has accelerated, and the technology allows two-way interaction to engage and get feedback.

There are challenges with the policies. The first one is privacy, and the Office of Management and Budget stepped up last year and clarified the privacy directions. If an agency is not collecting personal information, it’s fine. If you are collecting, you need to let the public know.

The second policy area is records management, and that has been somewhat cleared up, but the National Archives and Records Administration is still working with the community to get this right. If you are just getting input and feedback, OMB says that is not an official interaction. But when you move to soliciting specific advice on specific policies or specific process improvement techniques, it does fall under more scrutiny. It’s an evolving area.

The third area is security, and that is a challenge in any application. The agency policies are quite clear on their websites, and if they are using a cloud-based service, it must pass [Federal Information Security Management Act scrutiny].

FCW: Are you pleased with the pace of social media adoption?

McClure: It’s been pretty good progress. The vast majority of agencies are using social media tools in two ways: externally to communicate with the public and [as] an internal collaboration piece.

On the external [front], there has been good progress. For the most part, [the technology] has been accepted and created a new channel. It is more sensitive for agencies with protected information and personally identifiable information.

On internal collaboration, we are just one step down on a thousand-step journey. The progress in the internal use is not as advanced because it is game-changing in terms of how problems are addressed, work done and information shared.

FCW: You announced recently that GSA is working on a pre-procurement collaboration platform with industry. What is the status of that?

McClure: I’m not pretending that we’ve made any decisions. It’s a pre-[request for proposals] platform. In some ways, it is for collecting ideas. We need to consult with NARA and OMB to make sure it is fully policy compliant.

FCW: You have been blogging for a while. What have you learned?

McClure: I consider myself an apprentice in blogging. Our own GSA administrator, Martha Johnson, is probably one of the most active bloggers in government. She is a master at it. My blog is going OK. I have a lot to learn. It is hard to be consistently engaging and find the time.

FCW: How are federal agencies doing with mobile applications?

McClure: I think we are making good progress in the mobile space. It’s in the infancy stages. To clarify GSA’s role, we are trying to coordinate how agencies are putting the applications together, getting some consensus on standards and trying to ensure that we have a device-agnostic process. We are trying to help create some synergies in how the apps are created and adopted.

Everything is moving rapidly to the mobile environment. That’s how the citizens interact, and we have to think about service delivery and information delivery in that device world.

FCW: What will you be doing to implement President Barack Obama’s recent executive order on streamlining customer service?

McClure: We are looking at customer performance standards. The idea is to create practices, templates and process guidance on how to create a good customer service approach in your agency. We are trying to play a coordinating and governmentwide facilitation role in that.

FCW: Will streamlining involve removing outdated websites?

McClure: There are, at last count, 30,000 to 40,000 government websites. We have to inventory and look at what we have to determine which websites are not being used [and] which ones are old and need to be cleaned up a bit.

FCW: In a recent survey by ForeSee Results, federal websites on average scored 75 on a 100-point customer satisfaction index. A few federal sites scored higher than private-sector sites, such as Amazon.com. What do you think of that?

McClure: It shows that in government,...you’ve got people very dedicated to the mission. They want to do good customer service, and we have to make sure we are equipping them with the right tools. And if we do that, you will see those scores.

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