US CTO Todd Park on Embedding Lean Startup in Government

Having worked in the private sector for many years, Todd Park , the Chief Technology Officer for the United States and Assistant to the President, admits the most entrepreneurial he has ever felt has been working for the US Federal Government. Park is the federal government’s tech entrepreneur in residence. He runs an incubator inside the government that builds and executes projects to advance our nation’s priorities. All are powered by small teams that operate in agile modes.

“These are projects to get something new done in an environment of great uncertainty,” said Park in our conversation at the Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco. Here’s a summary of the different initiatives, built with lean startup techniques, that came out of this incubator.

Innovation Pathway 2.0 — This effort by the FDA works with experts to design and deploy medical devices in a fast development cycle to shorten total time for approval.

Open Data Initiatives — Inspired by Tim O’Reilly, this program seeks to liberate data to spur entrepreneurship and innovation. Many cities, including San Francisco, have done this to huge success. The US government is responsible for two of the most popular data repositories, weather data and GPS tracking data. And it has a lot more data to release.

“Turn the data into awesomeness,” said Park who is especially excited about this initiative because there’s so much yet to explore. Part of his job is to let entrepreneurs know the data is there. “If they don’t know it’s there, they can’t take advantage of it,” he explains. As entrepreneurs create exciting stuff with the data, it will inspire others in government to release their data to take advantage of new opportunities.

Project RFP-EZ — This is an effort to help high growth startups work with the US Government by helping them navigating through the bureaucracy of the government. Park realizes that many startups are told not to work with the government. And if tech startups can’t access the government market that’s a big problem, said Park. The service is an online marketplace and platform that allows tech startups to work with the U.S. government. For more, follow their efforts on Twitter.

MyGov With over 24,000 websites, the Federal Government has a sprawling Internet footprint. MyGov is an effort to consolidate all the information to make it easier for people to navigate.

Better than Cash and the 20% Initiative — In an effort to reduce payroll costs and corruption, these two partnering initiatives are trying to shift payment of overseas government workers, especially in developing countries, from physical paper money to digital payments. Paying government employees overseas has been a major issue, said Park, as corruption is often rampant and payments are often skimmed before they reach the intended recipients.

Since they instituted this program, employees have been receiving their full payments via their mobile phone. Staffers have been so excited that they’ve been thanking the mobile company for increasing their pay to as much as 30 percent. In reality, their pay was never increased. It’s just the amount they should have been paid all along. The first effort is focused on salary payments of workers in Afghanistan and Indonesia, said Park.

Blue Button for America — This initiative gives any veteran the ability to download their health records securely, which in the past has been amazingly difficult. To date 1.5 million veterans have downloaded copies of their own records, said Park.

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