Dave McClure, Associate Administrator for Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, Testifies on Federal Agency Use of Web 2.0 Technologies
DR. DAVID L. MCCLURE
ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR FOR
CITIZEN SERVICES AND INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGIES
U.S. GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION
COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM
SUBCOMMITTEE ON INFORMATION POLICY, CENSUS, AND NATIONAL ARCHIVES
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
JULY 22, 2010
Good afternoon, Chairman Clay, Ranking Member McHenry, and members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to testify about how federal agencies are implementing the Administration's Open Government agenda, and how the General Services Administration is working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Administration officials to enable this transformation.
The leadership of this Administration has been a catalyst for the rapid adoption of "web 2.0" tools by federal agencies—and, more broadly, of a renewed focus on making government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative. On his first full day in office, the President fully committed to these principles by issuing his Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. In this Memorandum, he called on agencies to:
"harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public [and]… solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public."
In December 2009, the OMB further strengthened this commitment by issuing the Open Government Directive. This directive provided specific guidance and concrete timelines for agencies. This directive outlined the steps agencies must take to increase citizen accessibility and transparency. Notably, the directive mandated that each agency develop and publish an Open Government Plan to "describe how it will improve transparency and integrate public participation and collaboration into its activities."
These actions, immensely important in their own right, have been truly transformational because they come at a time of convergence with other key trends:
• Important Changes in Technology—In the past decade, vast increases in the availability of storage space, bandwidth, and computing power have enabled a new class of Internet-based applications—broadly called "web 2.0"—that focus less on one-way delivery of information and more on enabling large, diverse communities to come together, share their wisdom, and take action.
• Shifting Consumer Expectations—In turn, the ubiquity of "web 2.0" tools has radically shifted the expectations of citizens. A few statistics paint the broad picture of how rapidly these tools have transformed how we produce and consume information:
- YouTube, a popular video sharing site, is now the second largest search engine in the world.
- More than 25 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc.) are shared each month on Facebook.
- On-line newspaper readership is up 16 percent. In the past year, among the 25 largest circulation newspapers, 10 had declines in weekday circulation of more than 10 percent.
- It took 38 years for radio to attract 50 million listeners, and 13 years for television to attract 50 million viewers. MySpace, YouTube, and Facebook host 250 million visitors each month, and none of these websites existed 6 years ago.
- By 2020, mobile devices will be world’s primary tool for connecting to the Internet.
Increasingly, many citizens—government's customers—are coming to expect to find the information they want and need through the use of the social networks and platforms they use every day.
Examples of Web 2.0 Use in Federal Agencies
The convergence of these forces—Presidential leadership, social change, and grass-roots enthusiasm—has produced an explosion of innovation. Highlighted below are a few of the literally hundreds of examples of agencies using web 2.0 tools:
• Library of Congress on Flickr—The Library of Congress is a repository of some of our nation's most cherished and important cultural artifacts. For years, however, citizens had to travel to Washington, D.C. to view these materials. In January 2008, that changed when the Library used the popular photo-sharing service Flickr (www.flickr.com) to put 3,000 public-domain, copyright-free photos online so that all citizens could share and explore them, regardless of geography. Moreover, the Library used Flickr's social tagging features to enable citizens to sort the photos by person, place, topic, and other key dimensions. The Library is using web 2.0 not only to deliver its content in ways that all citizens expect and appreciate, but to enlist citizens in the critical mission of examining and cataloguing that content for future generations.
• NASA’s Use of Twitter as a Communications Platform—NASA was an early adopter of using Twitter as a communications platform with its @MarsPhoenix account, which was well known for its stream of regular first-person updates about life as a spacecraft on Mars. On June 19, 2009, NASA utilized Twitter to broadcast to the world that the Mars Phoenix spacecraft had discovered water on Mars, proclaiming: “Are you ready to celebrate? Well, get ready: We have ICE!!!!! Yes, ICE, *WATER ICE* on Mars! w00t!!! Best day ever!!” Announcing a discovery of this magnitude using new media platforms was an innovative departure from NASA’s traditional way of doing business and proved extremely effective in communicating its discovery quickly. NASA Astronauts also use Twitter to share their experiences in space. On May 12, 2009, Astronaut Mike Massimino made history by sending the first Tweet from space while onboard the space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-125 mission: “From orbit: Launch was awesome!! I am feeling great, working hard, & enjoying the magnificent views, the adventure of a lifetime has begun!” Today, NASA uses Twitter on a regular basis. It recently created the NASA Buzzroom (http://www.buzzroom.nasa.gov) to aggregate online conversations about NASA. In terms of sharing a message with an audience, or engaging them in conversation around a topic like space exploration, there may not be a more effective way than personally connecting with others through new media platforms.
• U.S. Geological Survey Earthquake Monitoring Through Twitter—Created in 2006, Twitter (twitter.com) has become a major hub for sending messages and sharing content. In 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey recognized that many citizens were using Twitter to share information about earthquakes, and that "for felt earthquakes in populated regions, Twitter reports often precede[d] the USGS’s publically-released, scientifically-verified earthquake alerts." Drawing on this, they created the Twitter Earthquake Detector, or TED, to draw on citizens' updates as an "early warning system" of seismic activity and, potentially, to enable a more rapid and well-equipped response to these events than was previously possible.
• State Department Haiti Response—The State Department has demonstrated that social networks can not only help anticipate major natural disasters, but also help respond to them. In the hours immediately following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the State Department recognized the opportunity to enlist ordinary citizens in assisting the relief effort. Using SMS text messaging—a mobile technology available even to those without computers—they created a system that allowed mobile users to donate to a relief fund simply by texting a short code to a specified number. The campaign generated $1.7 million in its first 24 hours, and has now raised more than $40 million from about four million donors, making it the largest mobile donation campaign ever.
• National Library of Medicine's Pillbox—Government's use of social media is valuable not only in a crisis, but also in providing citizens with the information they need every day. Pillbox is a web application created by the National Library of Medicine that enables rapid identification of unknown pills by allowing a visitor to describe its shape, color, and markings and searching against government data for a match. Useful for emergency physicians, first responders, health care providers, and concerned citizens, Pillbox is a great example of how the Internet can transform previously hard-to-access government data into vital information that is at citizens' fingertips. It also provides a powerful case for the efficiency potential of web 2.0: According to Pillbox project manager David Hale, poison control centers get 1.1 million calls a year to identify drugs in emergency situations, at a cost of about $50 per call. Automating this service on the Internet has dramatic potential to defray some of this cost.
• EPA Puget Sound Mashup—Widely regarded as one of government's first forays into "web 2.0", EPA's Puget Sound Mashup was born out of then-CIO Molly O'Neill's recognition that although the federal government had responsibility for this vital waterway, they could not fulfill this responsibility without drawing on the wisdom of the of state and local governments, NGOs, stakeholders, and citizens who are directly impacted by the Sound and its surrounding environment. Using a basic wiki—a tool that allows anyone to contribute or edit content on a single website in real time—EPA called on these groups to share their best information resources, tools, ideas, and contacts to protect the Puget Sound. In just 48 hours, they received over 175 contributions, and the site's pages were viewed over 18,000 times.
• TSA "Evolution of Security" Blog—Blogging has represented a major shift in how we share and discuss information in real time. In January 2008, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recognized the potential value of this shift by launching the Evolution of Security Blog to provide "a forum for a lively, open discussion of TSA issues." Since then, the blog has had thousands of posts and comments, and has become a model of how federal government can use blogs to engage authentically with citizens. Only a week after it started, the TSA blog received comments from air travelers about their officers requiring all electronics to be removed from carry-on luggage, contrary to official guidance. The comments were passed along to TSA leadership, who rectified the issue quickly and reported back about it on the blog. Since then, the blog has also been used to provide travel tips and clarify controversial incidents involving airport security, all the while building TSA's reputation for engaging in an honest and straightforward way with citizens.
• Government Data Transformed into Apps—Recent examples underline the creativity and innovation that is unleashed when government data is made publicly available in open formats. In March 2010, USDA, in partnership with First Lady Michelle Obama’s "Let’s Move!" campaign to combat childhood obesity, launched the Apps for Healthy Kids contest. It challenged developers and designers to build Internet or mobile applications, based on USDA nutrition datasets, that could teach children and young adults about how diet and exercise can affect their lives. The challenge promises $60,000 in total prize money, and for that small investment, USDA has had over 90 eligible applications submitted, and attracted over 17,700 supporters. In that same model, Department of Health and Human Services Chief Technology Officer Todd Park recently led an effort known as the Community Health Data Initiative that seeks to "help Americans understand health and health care performance in their communities and to help spark and facilitate action to improve performance." "On March 11, the Institute of Medicine and HHS convened health care experts, technology developers, web 2.0 visionaries, and others to explore what could be done with HHS’s community health data. The group brainstormed an incredible set of ideas – and then, even more impressively, volunteered to pursue the development of many of them, roping in additional participants along the way. In the less than 90 days since that meeting, more than a dozen new or improved data applications using HHS’s community health data have been developed."
Each of these examples demonstrates a different facet of the way that social media and citizen engagement tools are transforming government. They are revolutionizing how citizens receive and interact with government information, and in turn, enabling citizens to provide government with their own "high-value data," be it in the form of photo tags, earthquake tweets, blog comments, or killer apps.
However, this revolution has not been a one-way street. Just as web 2.0 has impacted the way government operates, the structure and complexities of government have impacted how these tools are adopted and used. Here are a few brief examples:
• Can Government Employees Access Social Media Tools?—Because tools like Twitter and Facebook are so common in our personal lives, many managers in agencies question their appropriateness in a professional setting. They wonder whether an employee is truly using social media tools to execute their mission, or just passing time. Moreover, many CIOs are concerned about the demand that these tools take on Internet bandwidth and overall infrastructure, as well as their security implications. For these reasons, federal employees' access to popular social networking sites has been uneven; some block sites that others do not, and the rationale for these blockages is often inconsistent. In response, many agencies are creating detailed Social Media policies, indicating which tools are approved for on-the-job use, how they may be used, and associated security and privacy requirements. One of the most visible recent examples has been the Department of Defense issuing department-wide guidance authorizing the use of social media. The State Department has also recently released a social media policy, and the Environmental Protection Agency has released specific guidance for the use of Twitter, Facebook, widgets, discussion forums, blogging and other web 2.0 tools.
• How Should Government Employees Engage Online?—When, if at all, is it appropriate for a government employee to participate in a social network in their official capacity? The U.S. Air Force and Environmental Protection Agency have responded by developing a clear, concise framework for employees to use in making this judgment. The need for this kind of guidance highlights the new reality of social media: "communications" no longer comes only from the top of an organization; engagement with the public can happen at any level, in any venue, 24/7.
• How Can Government Learn From These Experiences Together?—In response to these and other issues, the Federal Web Managers Council—established in 2004 to recommend guidelines for public websites—has established a Social Media Sub-Council to collect and disseminate best practices with respect to federal agency use of social media tools. The Sub-Council has compiled hundreds of sample social media policies from federal agencies as well as state, local, and international governments. This has become an invaluable resource and a strong indication of how federal agencies are adapting the use of social media tools to their own complex missions and policies.
The Role of GSA and the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies
Against this background of progress and innovation, the General Services Administration plays a key role in expanding successful agency use of web 2.0 tools. For decades, GSA has been a leader in connecting citizens with government information, be it through traditional media such as publications and call centers, or more recently, websites such as USA.gov and gobiernoUSA.gov. As our Administrator, Martha Johnson, noted upon being sworn in in February 2010:
Hoarding and hiding information prevents citizens and civil servants from understanding and participating in the public process effectively…We at GSA can help change that. We can make the information more available, as a first step. And we can do much more. We can, and will, take advantage of emerging technologies for sorting, sharing, networking, collective intelligence, and using that information. Our goal is nothing short of a nation that relies not on select data and statistical boxing matches, but on accurate evidence that supports knowledge and wisdom.
Under Administrator Johnson's leadership, the organization I lead is transforming itself. Now called the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies (OCSIT), our goal is to work with OMB and other key actors to provide agencies with the tools and solutions they need to "keep their feet on the gas pedal," adopting web 2.0 tools quickly and using them successfully. To do this, we have created three new organizations within OCSIT:
• The Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement focuses on providing agencies with easy access to new and existing web 2.0 tools and platforms; supporting the agile use of these tools; and building learning communities of practice around emerging products and services.
• The Center for Customer Service Excellence focuses on building the capacity for agencies to deliver exceptional service via web, phone, e-mail and other channels; disseminating best practices and resource materials; and supporting a network of thousands of government web and new media professionals to share practices in new media and open government.
• The Office of Innovative Technologies focuses on providing agencies with the technical infrastructure that they need in order to maximize the efficient use of computing resources; creating platforms that enhance internal collaboration; and supporting government-wide information architecture initiatives.
GSA is able to play on this key role in helping to facilitate agency use of new technologies because of our unique position. Because we serve other agencies, we are able to deliver significant efficiencies to them by working with other key actors to establish tools, policies, and communities that extend across government. Just as our Public Building Service and Federal Acquisition Service provide agencies with integrated solutions in the areas of public property and procurement, OCSIT is able to function as a centralized point of service for those across government looking to explore or accelerate their use of social media and citizen engagement technologies. We also refine and leverage this expertise at a number of inter-agency forums on collaboration, including the White House’s Ideation and Challenge Communities of Practice, as well as the Open Government Working Group, which brings together the officials at each agency designated as responsible for the agency’s Open Government activities. I am honored to serve in this position for GSA.
Products and Services Supported by OCSIT to Encourage Citizen Engagement
Although the mission of OCSIT and its component organizations is very broad, we have created a number of concrete tools that agencies have already begun to use.
• Apps.gov is an online storefront, managed by GSA. Apps.gov was launched in September 2009; its purpose is to encourage and enable the adoption of cloud computing solutions within the federal government. Apps.gov greatly expands the IT service catalogue available to agency CIOs. It offers a robust set of business, productivity and social media applications and cloud procurements by federal agencies. We have learned that Apps.gov supports research and analysis of existing cloud products and services, and provides a fast, easy way for federal agencies to buy the tools they need—either through the storefront or other GSA acquisition vehicles like Advantage or e-Buy. Agencies have also used Apps.gov to research free social media tools with federal-compatible terms of service negotiated by GSA. By negotiating these agreements and making them available to other agencies, GSA has cleared an important hurdle to adopting free, commercial tools like YouTube and Facebook. Using the resources on Apps.gov, agencies can match the tools they need to agency-specific services they offer to their stakeholders.
Apps.gov now provides access to more than more than 3,000 apps. Within the social media category alone, as of March 2010 there have been 179 signed terms of service agreements, and 658 uses of the applications. As of today, there are 38 social media apps with negotiated terms of service agreements available for federal agencies.
A companion site, Info.Apps.gov, was also recently launched as a central forum for the dissemination of information relating to the Federal Cloud Computing Initiative. Relatedly, we recently released an RFQ for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) to be offered under the Apps.gov umbrella. This procurement will lead to the award of multi-vendor blanket purchase agreement for IaaS web hosting, storage, and virtual machines. Bids were received on June 30, 2010. Award is expected in August. This will be a competitive marketplace to Federal agencies contemplating IaaS architectural decisions.
• Common Open Government Dialogue Platform is a project undertaken by GSA in response to the Open Government Directive's mandate that agencies "incorporate a mechanism for the public to…provide input on the agency’s Open Government Plan." Over the course of six weeks, GSA provided interested agencies with a no-cost, law- and policy-compliant, public-facing online engagement tool, as well as training and technical support to enable them to immediately begin collecting public and employee input on their forthcoming open government plans. Since then, GSA has worked to transfer ownership of the open government public engagement tool, powered by a platform called IdeaScale, to interested agencies in a manner that provided both full compliance and support for sustained engagement. GSA will continue to provide support for the moderator community and facilitate the inclusion of public ideas in agency open government plans. GSA will also configure this same platform for use in public challenges and contests.
The initial platform was launched in February 2010 across 22 federal agencies and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Using the platform, agencies collectively gathered over 2,100 ideas, over 3,400 comments, and over 21,000 votes during a six-week "live" period. The capability has also been used for dialogue with the public a variety of other topics:
o Department of Transportation has used it to gain public input on their FY10-15 Strategic Plan
o USAID has used it to solicit questions for Administrator Rajiv Shah in advance of an employee town hall session
o The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has used it to run an online brainstorming session on improving the United States' industrial/manufacturing capabilities
o Kids.gov has used it to collect ideas and suggestions in advance of a planned website redesign
o GSA has used it to solicit ideas from employees and the public on becoming a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable workplace
• Challenge.gov is a government-wide challenge platform that will facilitate innovation through challenges and prizes. Challenges can be used by agencies for a wide array of purposes, such as creating public service announcements, promoting data sets as part of an Open Government initiative, generating new ideas, designing websites or logos, naming an initiative, creating a poster, building software apps, and much more. They also allow agencies to use taxpayer money wisely and efficiently, by only paying for successful solutions to critical problems.
Launched in beta to agencies in early July 2010, this tool provides a forum for federal agencies to pose challenges to the public, and for citizens to suggest, collaborate on, and deliver solutions. The platform will incorporate challenges from both Challenge.gov and other platforms, creating a single point of entry for citizens into collaborating directly with government on key challenges. The platform responds to requirements defined in a March 8, 2010 OMB Memo, “Guidance on the Use of Challenges and Prizes to Promote Open Government,” which included a requirement to provide a web-based challenge platform within 120 days. GSA is also exploring acquisition options to make it easier for agencies to procure products and services related to challenges, as well as working to provide training opportunities on challenges and contests for federal agencies interested in using this exciting methodology.
• Citizen Engagement Platform will provide a variety of blog, wiki, forum, and other engagement tools to make it easy for government to engage with citizens, and easy for citizens to engage with government. The platform addresses agencies’ need for easy-to-use, easy-to-deploy, secure and policy-compliant tools. This “build once, use many” approach adds lightweight, no-cost options for agencies to create a more open, transparent and collaborative government with tools hosted in a secure virtual environment. Beta launch is scheduled for late July 2010.
• Web Manager University is the federal government’s training program for government web and new media professionals. The program provides much-needed training from some of the world’s leading experts in web and new media. The multi-disciplinary curriculum addresses the broad range of skills that agencies need to manage their web and new media efforts, such as: managing content and writing in plain language; user experience, design, and accessibility; governance, policy, and strategic planning; social media and citizen engagement; emerging technology; search engines; and performance analytics. The program focuses on delivering hands-on, practical skills that government web staff can immediately apply to their work. WMU provides high value to government agencies by centralizing this training function, rather than having hundreds of agencies manage their own training programs. As of June 2010, Web Manager University has managed 200 training events and attracted over 18,000 participants. There are plans to expand into other areas of customer service, so agency employees receive training to better integrate all their outreach channels (web, phone, email, and in-person services).
Products and Services Supported by OCSIT to Encourage Open Data and Public Information
Much of OCSIT's focus has been on encouraging social media and citizen engagement. All of these activities take place on a foundation of making government information more transparent—in terms of both releasing more raw data, as well as improving how citizens can access and view it. In other words, we are focused both on disseminating data and on turning that data into information. As HHS CTO Park recently noted, there is a direct linkage between these two aspects of open government:
"Just making it known that we have [government] data that's available to you and turning it into a form that is easily accessible can spark huge amounts of innovation, and on top of that, unleash even more data...The Weather Channel, Weather.com and nightly local newscasters take [publicly-available government weather data] and turn it into other products, services and insights that are useful to Americans."
GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy has taken the lead in supporting two key initiatives in this area:
• Data.gov is the central portal for citizens to discover, download, and assess government data. Data.gov was launched in May 2009 with only 47 datasets; since launch, the number of datasets has grown rapidly to cover topics ranging from healthcare to commerce to education. As of May 2010, an unprecedented 272,768 datasets were accessible through Data.gov. One dataset on real-time, worldwide earthquakes has been downloaded 112,149 times.
Data.gov Quick Facts Launch:
May 21, 2009 1 Year:
May 21, 2010
Total datasets available 47 272,768
Visits to Data.gov 2.1 million 97.6 million
Applications and mashups developed by citizens 0 237
RDF triples for semantic applications 0 6.4 billion
Dataset downloads 0 652,412
Nations establishing open data sites 0 7
States offering open data sites 0 8
Cities in North America with open data sites 0 8
Open data contact in Federal agencies 24 253
This revolution in the availability of government data has sparked a national and global effort around increased open information and empowerment, and an explosion of creativity and innovation:
o Data.gov was one of the first sites to deploy cloud computing successfully in government
o Online rating of datasets by users
o 6.4 billion triples, or links between individual pieces of data—the highest ever using the semantic web
o Data mash-ups created by citizens, including the Sunlight Foundation's Apps for Democracy contests
o The creation of apps to solve daily problems—e.g., Fly On-Time using FAA flight arrival data—or national issues such as earthquake monitoring and reporting.
o A document management system that enables 250 points of contact across government to collaborate and release datasets
• USASpending.gov is a source for information collected from federal agencies in accordance with the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006. The sources of the data on the website are the Federal Assistance Awards Data System (FAADS) and the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS). Using USAspending.gov, the public can determine how their tax dollars are spent and gain insight into the Federal spending processes across agencies.
Additionally, USASpending.gov has an IT Dashboard that displays details of Federal Information Technology (IT) investments based on data received from agency reports to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The IT Dashboard website provides the public with details of Federal Information Technology investments and the ability to track the progress of investments over time. The IT Dashboard currently includes detailed data for nearly 800 investments classified by agencies as major investments. The site also includes general information on over 7,000 Federal IT investments. Agency Chief Information Officers (CIO’s) also rate the effectiveness of these investments in terms of cost and schedule (in accordance with the Clinger-Cohen Act). This process provides greater transparency to IT projects and allows agency CIO’s to identify any which are under-performing and then take remedial action to provide better value, efficiency, and effectiveness for taxpayers’ dollars. OMB uses these reports to review the investment portfolio of the agencies.
The Citizen Engagement Platform mentioned above will also provide federal agencies with easy access to the latest tools for communicating directly with citizens.
We recognize that it is often not enough to simply make data available; to have true impact, government information must be easily discoverable. This is even truer in an age when the volume of digital information is increasing rapidly—tenfold every five years, by some estimates. Citizens who visit sites like USA.gov are generally going there to find specific information or complete a transaction, and getting them to the information they need is integral to excellent customer service. For this reason, we have recently undergone a transformation of Search.USA.gov, the citizen-facing search engine behind USA.gov. Search.USA.gov is a powerful tool designed to provide direct access to searchable information from all levels of government: federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial. Services to the user, to content providers, and to agencies support the transparency of and access to all levels of government.
As a main feature of the central U.S. government portal, Search.USA.gov supports the goal of government transparency by helping searchers find what they want. Users get help formulating successful queries via suggested search phrases, spelling suggestions, and displaying related search topics. These navigation aids guide users to relevant information intuitively, quickly and conveniently. Our Search team works with government web managers and content providers to make their content available on-line but also more relevant and more accessible on multiple platforms.Search.USA.gov also provides leadership by working with individual agencies across the USA to improve their own search capability. The Search Affiliate program allows any government agency to place the Search. USA search box on their sites without cost to them. They can customize the look and feel and prioritize the results from the Search index to their individual constituencies. This supports access and transparency at all levels of government: federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial.
Finally, in addition to these discrete initiatives, I want to emphasize more broadly the importance we place on issues of user-centered design and plain language. The ultimate goal of opening up government data is not only to spur innovation by expert analysts and developers—though that is a critical goal—but to make information about government truly available and easy to understand to the average citizen. We’ve led and encouraged a number of initiatives focused on promoting these principles.
In the area of User-Centered Design, GSA sponsors the User Experience Sub-Council of the Federal Web Managers Council, where representatives from dozens of federal, state, and local agencies share best practices, lessons learned, and the latest research on how to make government websites more usable. We also offer training in user-centered design as a core part of our Web Manager University curriculum, including teaching agencies how to do regular testing of their websites with typical users. By following user-centered design, many government agencies have greatly improved their customers' online experience. For example, the FAA saves $2 million per year by making the top tasks on their website easier to use; FEMA website customers now complete key tasks 50% faster; and CDC improved user satisfaction on their website by 70%.
However, user-centered design is still not institutionalized in many government agencies, with dozens of new websites created every month that don’t undergo regular testing with citizens. The U.S. economy loses millions of hours of citizen productivity every year when people can’t efficiently accomplish basic government tasks online, such as filling out a form, applying for a loan, or checking eligibility for a government program. This adds to people’s dissatisfaction with their government. The Federal Web Managers Council is working with each agency representative to continue to identify their core online customer tasks.
Plain Language is critical to delivering exceptional customer service and to meeting the goals of the Open Government Directive. It supports our democracy by making the government more transparent, it helps people understand what the government does, and helps fight government waste and abuse. In addition, it saves time and money, because citizens can read and understand information faster, agencies get fewer calls and letters from customers asking for clarification, and it reduces costly errors because citizens follow instructions and fill out forms more accurately. In addition, as mobile devices become more and more prevalent, government must write information as concisely and jargon-free as possible, so people can quickly get answers on a small screen, without so much of the extraneous information that’s so common on government websites today.
My office is working closely with the Plain Language Action Network (PLAIN) to expand training opportunities in plain language and to develop additional resources to help agencies improve their writing—whether it’s writing on the web, print publications, emails, or other communications with the public.
Products and Services Supported by OCSIT to Encourage Collaboration Across Government
An important lesson of government’s adoption of web 2.0 is that, in addition to facilitating engagement with citizens, these tools can aid government employees in accomplishing their own work with both increased efficiency and greater innovation. Allow me to highlight just a few examples of the powerful internal collaboration that web 2.0 is enabling:
• TSA IdeaFactory—Known as one of the most impactful internal collaboration tools in government, TSA’s IdeaFactory was launched in April 2007 with the goal of harnessing ideas from the over 40,000 front-line Transportation Security offers stationed at airports across the nation. “IdeaFactory has grown from concept to a successful, widely-recognized innovation and collaboration program with approximately 40% participation across TSA [as of September 2009]. IdeaFactory has generated over 9,000 ideas, and resulted in the implementation of over 40 national programs and initiatives; ideas that have improved TSA operations and culture—including changes to Standard Operating Procedures – and new initiatives that have improved job satisfaction, increased retention and improved the quality of work life.”
• State Department Sounding Board—On one of her first days in office, Secretary Clinton pledged at a “town hall” session to actively solicit and discuss employees’ ideas for improving the Department. Only days later, an internal “Sounding Board” site was launched that allowed employees to submit ideas on nearly any aspect of the Department’s operations. With a highly distributed workforce of over 63,000, a site like Sounding Board is a critical link in enabling senior leaders to draw on the deep expertise and broad perspective of State Department professionals stationed continents and time zones away from Washington. In a July 2009 “town hall” session, Secretary Clinton noted that the Department’s desire to increase investment in mobile and remote workplace technology stemmed in part from feedback received on the Sounding Board:
I’ve been very pleased at the response that we’ve had since we’ve began the Secretary’s Sounding Board, the online forum that I established to solicit your ideas on how to improve the Department and USAID. You’ve submitted over 300 ideas. And a lot of them, in fact, I would say a significant number – I’m not sure a majority, but pretty close – discussed ways about how to get greater access to mobile computing technology…[T]hanks to your input, IRM is now increasing investment in our mobile computing program and purchasing an additional 2,500 remote access FOBs that will allow more Department personnel to use computers when you’re away from the office…And we’re making other changes as well that are in reaction to the ideas posted on the Sounding Board. But we need to apply this spirit of evaluation, reform, and improvement to the entire organization.
As of June 2010, Department employees have submitted approximately 1,800 suggestions and generated over 10,000 comments. An average of 27,000 unique visitors browse the site each month.
• VHA/OIT Innovation Competition—In addition to broad ideation, agencies are also finding ways to leverage targeted competitions and challenges to foster internal innovation. In February 2010, the Veterans Health Administration/Office of Information Technology launched the Innovation Competition, which challenged employees to suggest IT innovations that could enhance delivery of health services to the nation’s veterans. The contest was wildly successful, garnering about 6,500 submissions from a participant pool of 45,000 participants—nearly a quarter of all eligible employees, according to VA Chief Technology Officer Peter Levin. In May 2010, VA announced 26 “winning ideas” that were selected for implementation, including: Reducing healthcare associated infections using informatics; a robust VA forms search engine; an E-discharge pilot program; and a touch screen device to support the nursing triage of patients.
• NASA Spacebook—In addition to surfacing innovative ideas, some agencies are turning to internal collaboration platforms to create a more connected, agile workforce. NASA’s Spacebook, launched in June 2009, is an internal Facebook-like site that enables employees to connect, share information and resources, and collaborate on important projects. As a result, NASA employees—many of whom are research scientists working in specialized fields—have an unprecedented ability to discover common goals and reduce duplication. The platform even includes an equipment exchange forum that helps employees efficiently distribute the material resources that are so critical to NASA’s research mission.
Recognizing the power unleashed by using web 2.0 tools for internal collaboration, OCSIT is working to create infrastructure and platforms that enable more agile collaboration within and across agencies:
• The Federal Cloud Computing Initiative, managed by a Program Management Office at GSA, was established to ensure that the government could most effectively leverage cloud-based solutions and to address obstacles to adoption of cloud computing. Estimates have shown that more than 20% of the $79 billion the federal government will spend on IT next year is infrastructure spending, and offering a centralized cloud computing environment to federal agencies will help provide needed agility and scalability as well as produce significant savings and efficiency.
The program concentrates on areas of interest and concern including Security, Standards, and Email and support to cloud acquisitions. The program is developing a standard government-wide security certification and authentication process, has supported Apps.gov's online storefront for procuring cloud-based solutions, and has issued a RFQ for infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) capabilities. This acquisition will result in a multiple-award blanket purchase agreement available to all agencies and will provide secure, scalable cloud-based web hosting, storage, and virtual machines. The program works closely with NIST to encourage the development of standards to govern portability and interoperability in the cloud environment. In addition, the program has established a government-wide information portal to keep agencies informed of its activities and conducted and participated in numerous meetings and fora for agencies and industry to share information related to cloud computing.
Additionally, NASA has developed Nebula, an open-source cloud computing platform, to provide an easily quantifiable and improved alternative to building additional expensive data centers and to provide an easier way for scientists and researchers to share large, complex data sets with external partners and the public. Nebula is currently an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) implementation that provides scalable compute and storage for science data and Web-based applications. Nicknamed the "Super Cloud," Nebula can effortlessly manage 10,000 or 100,000 times the amount of information as the most powerful commercial cloud computing platforms, accommodating files as large as eight terabytes and accommodating an individual file system of 100 terabytes (one terabyte equals 1,000 gigabytes). By contrast, the maximum Amazon EC2 file size and file system size is one terabyte. Built upon a converged 10Gig-E switching fabric, Nebula delivers 10 times the networking speed of the fastest available commercial cloud environments, most of which run at 1GigE, and use only 100Mb. This combination of high-speed networking, 2.9GHz CPUs, and hardware RAID configurations allows the Nebula environment to provide massively parallel performance equivalent to the best dedicated hardware currently available, and far in excess of any commercial cloud.
• FedSpace will provide an integrated suite of collaboration tools to make it easier for employees to connect people and knowledge across the Federal enterprise. In FY2010, GSA expects to launch a secure intranet and collaboration workspace for Federal employees and contractors across Executive Branch agencies. FedSpace will enable government employees to work collaboratively across agencies, through the use of web 2.0 technologies like file sharing, wikis, a government–wide employee directory, shared workspaces, blogs, and other features. GSA is considering cloud hosting options (if practical) for this pilot.
GSA is also helping to support the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM), a partnership of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. NIEM has been led by the Chief Architect's Office in OMB, and is now under the direction of the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (ISE). It is designed to strengthen cross-agency collaboration by adopting common Extensible Markup Language (XML) data-tagging standards when exchanging data across jurisdictions. It helps to develop, disseminate and support enterprise-wide information exchange standards and processes that can enable jurisdictions to effectively share critical information in emergency situations, as well as support the day-to-day operations of agencies throughout the nation.
NIEM is the leading implementation of XML across the federal government. In the same way that technology standards like HTML enabled the first Internet revolution, more advanced "smart tagging" technologies like XML have become critical to enabling the next generation of web 2.0 platforms. The success of NIEM has recently led 12 of the 24 CFO Act agencies to use or commit to use the standard, and seven more are currently evaluating potential use. With that, the focus of NIEM has branched from national security and law enforcement mission spaces into becoming a standard approach for tagging government transparency data and is soon to support secure health information exchanges.
Emerging Issues in Information and Records Management
Before concluding, I want to touch on the potential implications of government use of web 2.0 for information and records management, a subject that’s obviously of great interest to this Subcommittee, and with good reason. I want to stress clearly that information and records management policy are not within my office’s purview. However, our work in provisioning web 2.0 tools across government may provide a useful broad perspective on how other agencies are currently looking at this important issue.
As you know, in general terms, the Federal Records Act determines how the government must preserve and dispose of records created in the course of conducting official government business. This can include anything from documentation of regulatory decisions, to paperwork associated with procurements or grantmaking, to information collected from citizens in an official capacity, such as a census response.
Use of all web 2.0 tools as a category does not necessarily cause records management concerns. However, our observations indicate that the introduction of commercially operated shared third-party web 2.0 tools complicates the effective management of federal records and information. It raises at least three broad questions:
• First, the agency, must decide whether a particular instance web 2.0 information is going to be considered a record. There is not universal agreement on what constitutes a record within a web 2.0 context. Per agency discretion afforded by the Federal Records Act, this is an agency-by-agency determination. For example, one agency may make the determination that, comments received on a public blog do not constitute federal records, and do not treat them as such. By contrast, we know anecdotally that some agencies consider posts on their Facebook wall to be records, and capture and maintain them. Other agencies, such as Department of State, are creating policies and looking for tools to manage the content of social media content—both records created by the social media platform and records created as part of the management of social media platforms.
Particularly as ideation tools enable agencies to engage in ongoing, informal dialogue directly with citizens, the question of what aspects of this conversation count as records needs to be determined. While it has not appeared in policy – generally, a determination on informal communications versus formal communications and records management retention is at issue.
• Second, this question is complicated by the fact that many web 2.0 platforms feature content that changes and evolves rapidly. For example, a page on an agency wiki or an agency's Facebook wall can be updated and changed multiple times each day or even each hour. Platforms like this, which version rapidly and in real-time, complicate the question of when in a series of rapid and evolving interactions a record exists and then a further determination of when a recordkeeping copy needs to be set aside so that formal preservation procedures take place.
• Finally using some third-party social media tools creates process challenges to maintaining the record. Most third-party tool providers did not anticipate this requirement. There are few easy ways to reliably generate records from third-party social media platforms—in which the relevant information does not reside on government-managed servers or databases—and ad-hoc systems created for this purpose. It can be labor-intensive, inefficient, and duplicative. When the Government uses the tools within our own IT environment, we can control the recordkeeping copy.
The National Archives and Records Administration, which has primary responsibility for federal records management policy, has taken the lead on assessing the need for records management guidance for web 2.0 tools. They are currently developing a Bulletin on web 2.0/social media platforms that is scheduled for distribution by the end of FY 2010. NARA is also conducting a study of Federal agencies that are actively using web 2.0 technologies in their agency mission related activities that is scheduled for distribution by the end of FY 2010. NARA recently hosted a focus group for records management and web management staff in which GSA participated to discuss federal uses of Web 2.0 technology, and GSA as a partner strongly appreciates these worthwhile efforts and encourages them to continue.
Thank you again for the invitation to share GSA's perspective today. I have also included as an appendix to this testimony a timeline compiling some of the critical milestones in this story over the last half-decade.
I look forward to keeping you informed of our efforts on this front, both through formal communications like this one, as well as through several Twitter accounts that have been established to tell the public about our activities: @GovNewMedia, @WebManagerU, @USAgov, @GobiernoUSA, and @USDataGov.
This concludes my statement. Thank you for your time today and I look forward to your questions on federal agency use of emerging web 2.0 tools, and what GSA is doing to enable and encourage this exciting trend.