Commerce Data Service looking to grow big in 2016

One of government's latest startups has plans to add dozens of people and finish 15 projects this summer.

Shutterstock image (by Laborant): clear magnifying glass, blurred binary code.

The Commerce Department's Commerce Data Service only launched in November, but the small office has plans to grow to more than 100 people and knock out more than a dozen projects this summer.

"How many people actually like interacting with government websites?" Dr. Tyrone Grandison, Commerce's deputy chief data officer and CDS head, asked the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Information Security and Privacy Advisory Board on March 23.

"That's the problem," he said when no hands went up.

CDS is aiming to improve digital offerings throughout Commerce via a combination of consulting, product development and education.

All of CDS' core team members, Grandison said, came from 18F, bringing with them an ethos of forceful outreach. A big part of CDS' work will involve convincing bureaus that transparency has real value, and that open data is not, as Grandison said some bureaus seem to think, "just a PDF with a graph in it."

The data shop is also promoting public use of agency information -- which includes demographic data from the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's gargantuan streams of weather data – through the Commerce Data Usability Project.

CDS has 15 projects it aims to complete before August 2016, Grandison said. "We are a startup but we are very aggressive," he added.

One project will involve working with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to streamline the patent application process, in hopes of trimming the time required down to a mere three hours. Grandison later told FCW that for some users, the improved process of finding the right forms to file their own application could take only minutes, "much like e-file for your taxes." The push started as a "stretch goal," Grandison said, but he claimed CDS would be on track to get it done within the year.

And not every CDS accomplishment is a full-fledged project. Grandison told the board that one bureau (which he declined to name) saved nearly $10 million when, after a conversation with CDS, bureau leadership realized they could use YouTube instead of procuring new video hosting tools.

To get everything done, CDS plans to grow fast.

New folks will largely be detailees from other agencies on 3-month rotations to learn new tech, Grandison told FCW. The core "ragtag team" will remain around 15 employees, he said but within six months, CDS total ranks should swell to around 105.

And since other agencies will be shouldering much of the employee costs, Grandison said CDS will be relatively flexible in the face of budget uncertainty.

Note: This article was updated on March 25 with additional comments from Grandison.

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