How Two Weeks Saved the Gov’t $300 Million: Uncle Sam’s List

Yesterday, GovLoop and WordPress hosted the event, Do More With What You Have: Experience WordPress in Government, highlighting the power of WordPress to modernize and optimize government websites. The event included numerous case studies of websites that use WordPress CMS services, which are robust, scalable and adaptable with numerous plug-ins and add-ons. At the event, government employees were connected with other successful WordPress users, developers and implementers to share best practices for smarter, more efficient and dynamic government websites.

Missed the event? Check out the slides here and Balter’s slides here.

The second presenter of the afternoon was GitHub’s Ben Balter, who spoke about Uncle Sam’s List, the latest White House initiative powered by WordPress. When it comes to the intersection of innovation and government, Balter is an awesome resource. He’s served as a Presidential Innovation Fellow and also worked in the Office of the US CIO within the Executive Office of the President, during which he help craft the President’s Digital Strategy.

Think Smaller

Balter’s main message was that solutions don’t need to be complex and complicated. Folks should often think smaller when approaching an issue. This simple piece of advice was exemplified in the case of Uncle Sam’s List. The List is a powerfully tailored, yet straightforward web tool that is connecting agencies to shared services and leading to enormous gains in government efficiency.

Widely known is the fact that the government contracts for everything. From phone service to furniture, nearly all goods and services purchased by the government under go an acquisitions process. As a result of the huge scale of government and this contracting system, agencies typically bargain individually for things that could be purchased across agencies at lower costs. The government needed a way to get more agencies to leverage existing services and contracts instead of buying costly new ones.

The complicated solution would have been to spend millions of dollars to contract, yet again, for a specialized, government-wide contract management system.

The Simple Solution: Craigslist for Government

Uncle Sam’s List is an open source classifieds system for government employees to look up, leverage and share commodities IT, support and mission services.

Balter outlined the mains steps in developing Uncle Sam’s List. First, his team looked at what’s already out there and Googled for existing open source tools. Second, they looked more closely at what kind of functions they needed to meet the goal, such as government taxonomies and the ability to search. After this initial research and design, Balter and his team were quick to develop the web solution. The results were amazing quick as they developed:

  • A fully functional prototype after a few hours
  • A working alpha version after 2 weeks
  • A private beta version with 20 agencies after 2 months

Uncle Sam’s Lists runs off a basic WordPress site with community and custom plug-ins. The outcomes of the site have led to incredible savings. To date, it’s led to $300 million in actual savings and is predicted to save $2.5 billion over the 2013 to 2015 fiscal years. The OMB looks forward to Uncle Sam’s List serving as government’s one-stop-shop for shared services.

Want to learn more about the day’s other presentations? Read about how the Consumer Financial and Protection Bureau (CFPB) utilizes WordPress for its CMS backbone and also check out how the GSA is using WordPress for to propel government progress towards shared services.

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