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Federal innovators create forum to tackle challenges

Apr. 10, 2012 - 06:03PM   |  
By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON   |   Comments
A new interagency forum on technology will soon give feds a place to share ideas, promote best practices and tackle common challenges.
A new interagency forum on technology will soon give feds a place to share ideas, promote best practices and tackle common challenges. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Technology innovators in the federal government will soon have a broader interagency forum to share ideas, promote best practices and tackle common challenges, such as developing new software applications, embracing open source software and consolidating data centers.

Federal Chief Technology Officer Todd Park will lead the new forum, which will operate similarly to interagency groups like the Chief Information Officers Council, according to Peter Levin, CTO at the Veterans Affairs Department.

The forum will consist of both career and politically appointed feds who are focused on how to bring innovation to their departments, Levin said at an IT event Tuesday in Bethesda, Md.

"At the end of the day, we can make all the decisions we want, [but] it's the career staff that actually has to do the work with us," Levin said.

The forum will likely be an expansion of the existing Innovation Cohort, launched by the Presidential Personnel Office in 2010, for appointed technology leaders across government to share information, solve problems in real time and serve as an incubator for new innovators. Levin, a member of the Innovation Cohort, expects the group will be less formal than the CIO Council.

If the new forum is modeled after the Innovation Cohort, Levin said, members will address "very specific, nitty-gritty technology issues," such as how best to use software applications to solve specific problems in government, how to integrate those applications with each other and how to use XML format and open-source software in a federal context.

Details about the forum structure are still being worked out.

Levin recalled one of his first meetings with the Innovation Cohort. Discussion within the group helped plan the launch of VA's Blue Button, which allows veterans to download and share their personal health records. Today, many health insurance carriers allow people to download their personal health information online.

"Every month there was a specific problem we had to solve, and you weren't allowed to leave the room unless the person asking the question or the people providing solutions had a clear idea of what the next step was going to be, and that's what we're trying to now push out into the career staff," he said.

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