GovHelp: What Should Be the #1 Focus of New White House Deputy CTO Chris Vein?

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This topic contains 45 replies, has 22 voices, and was last updated by  Steve Ressler 9 years, 10 months ago.

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  • #125109
    A few months ago, we bid farewell to Beth Noveck and wondered who would fill her (hard-to-fill) shoes? Well, we have an answer:

    Beth and her colleagues in the Administration laid a strong foundation over the past couple years. Now it’s time to build on their hard work.

    Consider this your chance to engage in OpenGov Makeover: Chris Vein Edition. 😉

    • What do you think should be his top priority?
    • Should he focus on one of the pillars — transparency, participation or collaboration — over another?
    • Which of the Open Gov Projects are working…or not?
    • What action can he take that will have the greatest impact within agencies?
    • How about the action that achieves the biggest impact on citizen engagement?
    Psst…by the way, I know he’s watching as I had an email exchange with Beth over the weekend and he’s aware of our posting this forum. So your voice will be heard!

  • #125199

    Steve Ressler

    My top priority would be:

    -Assess current status of Open Government (2-3 weeks) – whats working, whats not, what projects have most potential

    -Lay out his vision and priorities for next 12 months and where he needs help and how folks can help

    Lastly – Build the eco-system of resources to get the work done. In the end, you need resources to do anything. Get more detailees, summer interns, and PMF fellows to augment the staff at Open Gov. Advocate for budget in the budget process. Tap into the eco-system of people who want to help whether GovLoopers, folks on listservs like Sunlight Labs, public policy students studying open gov. Make it clear how government employees can help out in 2-3 hours a week as collateral duty

  • #125197

    Alan Silberberg

    Making Open Gov a reality beyond twitter for every agency of government to utilize the tools used by citizens to fully engage in both the process and customer service. Let’s take it beyond the “sounds cool” stage to really implementing long lasting changes that will bring with them cost savings while creating new procurement opportunities.

  • #125195

    Alexander B. Howard

    Transparency, participation and collaboration are laudable goals. Australia’s Kate Lundy recently re-emphasized citizen-centric services, democratising data and participatory government in that country’s efforts.

    The top priorities I’m hearing from citizens are jobs and the economy, followed by rising energy prices. Systemically, there are huge challenges around healthcare, education, aging transportation infrastructure and the long war overseas. Given the gravity of the moment — and the certainty that every aspect of the administration’s policies will be under scrutiny as the 2012 election season draws closer — the question of whether open government can be leveraged to address those challenges will be asked again and again.

    If transparency enables Congress and the chief performance officer to collaborate in identifying duplicative programs and wasteful spending, that’s important. If health data and open source approaches to standards can help improve service delivery, that’s important as well. The success of HHS in those area shouln’t be overlooked. Fundamentally, implementation of these policies will need to make government more efficient, smarter or more agile.

    At the federal level, the participatory aspect of open government will only work if the public is involved in co-creation. If whatever “ExpertNet” means is stood up, that will be even more so. That also means that it’s likely going to take more than Vein, Chopra, Kundra or Zientz working in the trenches and speaking at conferences to catalyze citizen engagement. At some point, their boss is likely going to have to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to ask the American people to get involved in open government efforts, provide them with specific calls to action and highlight both the successes and lessons learned from the past two years.

  • #125193

    Steve Ressler

    Agree on that would mean a lot to have Obama involved at some level on one of the initiatives. Or tie in Open Government or one of projects like ExpertNet to one of the highest priority initiatives (like jobs, health care, etc)

  • #125191

    Steve Radick

    I agree with Alex’s assessment that we need more focus on citizen-centric services.,, Open Government Directive – those things are great, don’t get me wrong. They’re absolutely needed and are a step in the right direction. But, as Mark Drapeau has said a few times before, the average citizen doesn’t see, hear, or care about Gov 2.0. I’d love to see Chris focus more efforts on improving the technology AND the practices at the citizen-to-government level. Instill a culture of authenticity, transparency, and helpfulness beyond the Beltway and into the local DMVs and TSA agents.

    I’d also like to see a greater focus on hiring the right people to do this sort of work. I’m not talking about some generic “we need to hire the best and brightest civil servants…blah blah blah.” I’m talking about going out and specifically recruiting the top technology students from across the country. Technology is obviously an important part of his job (that’s the “T” in CTO), but it takes really smart people to develop, implement, and adapt that technology. Top engineers in Silicon Valley are worth their weight in gold, but our government tends to look at these roles as almost interchangeable. We need to pour more money into recruiting top talent in the tech space, training and grooming them, and then retaining them. I don’t think our government should have to settle for anything less than top talent.

    At the end of the day, the technology and the programs that Chris implements won’t be his legacy – that will be determined by the people he hires, trains, equips, and empowers.

  • #125189

    Steve Ressler

    Interesting note from TechPresident article
    While he joined the White House after Noveck left, his title is different: He is deputy CTO for government innovation, presumably a larger portfolio, while Noveck’s title specifically referenced open government.

  • #125187

    Steve Radick

    Oh, and another thing that I would put high on my priority list – encouraging, no, mandating, that agencies work TOGETHER around technology issues. I’d love to see Chris put an end to this “my agency is unique” and “not developed here” syndrome that has choked technological progress to death. For example, the GSA has signed terms of service agreements with social media providers like Facebook, YouTube, and others, yet many government orgs ignore these, instead saying they need to secure their own individual agreements because the ones the GSA signed won’t work for their unique situation. Every agency has some sort of “Agency-book” behind their firewall.

    We need some sort of IT strategy that will do more than say these agencies should work together – it should say they must work together.

  • #125185

    Kristy Dalton

    A local govie has the coolest job in the White House. Not something to be taken lightly.

    I remember last year when President Obama initiated the Open Government Directive. I was so excited that it was his first official move, that I even wrote a short article at the time, even as a local govie. Many in government were and still are excited and hopeful.

    One small thing, though. You, me, and probably everyone else commenting on this article – are a little bit different. We’re the type of folks who engage in government conversations like this. This is normal to us. I would pose that most citizens have no idea this discussion is going on. No idea what this whole ‘open government’ movement is all about, much less ‘open data’.

    Why don’t they know? Because it’s local government that has the direct impact on their lives. That’s where they pay their sewer bills and parking tickets. And where the cops come when they call 911, and where they see the firefighters in their communities.

    Federal government engages you once a year at dreaded tax time, and that season when you get bombarded with all those darned campaign commercials. Not the truth, but I believe many are very disconnected with what goes on in DC.

    I see Chris Vein’s appointment as what could be a huge step toward closing these disparate perceptions. His understanding of citizen connection with the government closest to the people will hopefully help guide his vision of government innovation. His roots can help government connect more with the everyday lives of average Americans in ways that are most meaningful to them.

  • #125183

    Steve Radick

    @Luke – if Chris can do all of that, I’ll put my application in the mail tomorrow (as I’m sure you would as well)!

  • #125181

    Keith Moore

    Gov 2.0 must find its way to connecting the data dots to job creation. Small Business must lead, and Government must listen, and new media companies should have the chance that Bloomberg, American Express (Open Forum), and Google had when they established early MOU’s and contracts with several of the agencies. In fact, using Gov 2.0 o bring public trust back into Government would be to lead by example and require the large IT firms like Microsoft, HP, Apple to be required to commit to 23% of their federal contract dollars must include formal mentor protege relationships with small businesses. Large business must expand mentorships with small business. And finally, we learned from the DOT Open Government Forum January 2010 that the most challenging issue with government is collaborating with other agencies, so funding allocations to departments should be made on the basis of leading by collaborations with other agencies. Using social media and Gov 2.0 tools to fulfill agencies missions more effectively and with less of a budget to work with would be the order of recommendations as we see the marketplace at Open Government TV.

    Oh, I forgot. There are some communities who still don’t know what Gov 2.0 is, and even worse, there are some government employees who do not either.

    Welcome Chris. We at Open Government TV look forward to our interview with you.

  • #125179

    I agree, Alan. What does your vision for the future look like (i.e. what achieves cost savings and procurement opportunities)? How would you concretize this suggestion in a policy decision? How could you incentivize agencies to move to the next level of engagement?

  • #125177

    Quick summary of the topics you’d want to see addressed, Alex:

    – Jobs

    – Economy

    – Energy

    – Healthcare

    – Education

    – Transportation

    – Long War

    If you had to pick just one, what would it be? And if you can’t pick just one, how would you rank these in terms of (a) importance to achieving open government and (b) lasting impact?

  • #125175

    “Instill a culture of authenticity, transparency, and helpfulness beyond the Beltway…”

    If you were Deputy CTO (and you’d make a great one, by the way), how would you accomplish that? What’s the road map? Action 1, 2, 3…

    “…greater focus on hiring the right people to do this sort of work.”

    Name the Top 3 schools where you’d start…and I am taking MIT, Stanford and UC-Berkeley off the table 🙂

    Here’s a list. Would they have to be U.S. citizens?

  • #125173

    Interesting suggestion, Steve – would this discourage innovation if we require uniformity for the sake of unity?

  • #125171

    Luke – seeing a convergence between you and Radick here on the workforce issues. Are you talking just at the White House or government-wide? What would this look like? An Executive Order? “Stop wearing suits!” ??

    Is it odd that I wear a suit in my home office? 🙂

  • #125169

    Andy Oram

    It’s clear that some data sets are more productive and desired by
    civil society than others, so the new deputy CTO should build two-way
    communication channels to find out what data the public wants most.

    The potential for government data to kick off new services and even
    new industries is a godsend, but services that link the public to the
    government should be open source if at all possible. I know Chris is
    sensitive to this need.

    Along the same lines, I’d advise against depending heavily on social
    networking sites owned by third parties, such as Facebook and Twitter,
    to connect government employees with the public. It’s fine to be
    there, to talk and listen there, because that’s where people spend a
    lot of time anyway, but serious discussions should use government
    sites that are unencumbered by privacy issues and other
    terms-of-service issues presented by the third-party sites.

    There may be a role for Chris to help HHS and the larger health care
    field define new standards and protocols for exchanging the huge
    amounts of data (blood pressure readings, observations of daily
    living, etc.) that are being generated by new devices and patient

    involvement. The current state of standards is lamentable, but
    advances in patient-centered medicine and sensors give us a chance to
    start over.

    Finally, any intervention Chris can offer in the debate over
    immigration (which will become hot, I guarantee it), to support the
    retention of talented immigrants at all levels in the economy and
    their integration into society without discrimination, would advance
    the contribution of technology to social progress.

  • #125167


    Build on the GAO report on duplication of government programs ( issued last week to identify organization and infrastructure point at which to institutionalize shared services and IT infrastructure.

    Work with NIST to develop a standardized approach to information technology that can be rolled out and monitored through regulation. This could streamline extraordinary waste and create a smooth environment for intra- and inter-agency collaboration.

  • #125165

    That’s three votes for “citizen-centric” open government, Kristy.

    One way that government can get closer to citizens is tied to Luke’s response above: telework. Imagine more Federal employees working in their neighborhoods or in shared spaces in their local communities where they interact more often with other citizens so that Americans can see them in action – working hard to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars (and saving money on buildings and infrastructure, etc. in the process).

  • #125163


    I would like to see Chris drive some consistency and coordination down into the individual Agencies and Departments, with Open Gov Leads appointed at multiple levels (HQ and Centers). His title is Deputy CTO for Innovation, which will require some major cultural shifts away from the top-down model that is currently in place, as innovation is definitely not something that can be mandated or delegated. That said, there will have to be policy changes as well to facilitate these changes, with a greater emphasis on the individual’s freedom to choose and self-select roles and projects. Funding set-asides for innovation across all aspects of gov’t business is key.

    The NASA Forward Maker Camp is an event that is designed to foster innovation @NASA. I would like to see this model and others like it embraced and adopted across gov’t:

    Finally, I would like to see the ExpertNet RFI results roll-up with some tangible next steps that include participants across all sectors of gov’t.

  • #125161

    “…the new deputy CTO should build two-way communication channels to find out what data the public wants most.” Do you think people are stating what’s important based on the Most Popular Datasets on Perhaps the Administration (and agencies) can take a look at the Top 10 to 25 Most Popular datasets and release more like those…

    “advise against depending heavily on social networking sites owned by third parties, such as Facebook and Twitter, to connect government employees with the public.”

    Would it be cost prohibitive to build new platforms? Would they achieve the reach they desire by moving away from the places where people are conducting their daily lives online?

    “any intervention Chris can offer in the debate over immigration (which will become hot, I guarantee it), to support the retention of talented immigrants at all levels in the economy…”

    A comment tied to my question for Steve Radick above: this becomes especially important if the “best and brightest” tech folks are located in other countries and we’d like to recruit them to help out here…but do we want to bring global talent vs. focusing on STEM education here and building our own top-notch talent?

  • #125159

    I’d like to see him mention Gov 2.0 in public – and not at a a gov2.0 conference.

    During the State of the Union Speech, The President mentioned government innovation a few times, but didn’t mention it as Gov 2.0. It would make it an easier sell to local and state officials who’ve never heard of Gov 2.0 if we had somebody high-profile helping to encourage goverment innovation.

    Perhaps this next bit isn’t a #1 priority, but I would really like GSA to open it’s to state and local agenices.

  • #125157

    Sterling Whitehead

    @govloop has the best approach here, especially for his first two steps. I would tweak the final step by adding more people to Open Gov that are outside DC. The goal is to institutionalize Open Gov. If Obama doesn’t get re-elected, there could be a backlash against Open Government. We just don’t know, so adding Open Gov staff outside the Beltway and White House strengthens Open Gov.

  • #125155

    Steve Ressler

    I think this is a key part – how to institutionalize it. Actually changing the name to “government innovation” in the title is actually a pretty smart step as no party is against innovation

  • #125153

    Jose Luis Manners

    here’s another vote for “citizen-centric” services.

  • #125151

    Justin Mosebach

    And another one. And a vote for getting local governments involved as those are the main touch-points that people have during the day w/ government. Maybe there would be a way for them to create websites that are “open for ideas” on every fed website, instead of just “/open”. People don’t necessarily know what “open government” is, but they might still be willing to give suggestions for improvement.

    Full-disclosure: I work for an IT company that works w/ local gov.

  • #125149

    Daniel Honker

    There’s been a lot of great discussion on what types of activities the new CTO should engage in. Let me offer this: The big-picture need is to tie open government efforts to this new push for competitiveness and government efficiency/effectiveness.

    Attention and focus on open government have been waning, and I believe that the only way opengov will sustain into the future and be built into how gov operates will be for it to be folded into another big initiative. Obama’s call for reorganization, in addition to the GPRA 2.0 bill that recently passed, offer the opportunity for opengov to “hitch its wagon” to something that has energy behind it.

    I believe the focus should be how opengov can be built into the processes and culture of government. The early adopters have all bought in, but this movement has had trouble breaking into the rest of the bell curve. Steve’s suggestion is right — this is the position that should be building the infrastructure and resources for opengov to be *sustained*.

  • #125147

    Caryn Wesner-Early

    Part of this is the telework policy question. Here on GovLoop, I’ve seen that almost every government agency has a different policy. In some agencies, supervisors may not telework. In others, ONLY supervisors may do so. People can telework one day a week, or one day a month, or move to Washington state and check in every 2 weeks, depending on their agencies. We need a single pan-governmental telework policy.

  • #125145

    Steve Ressler

    Yep – like how performance is part of every project. Openness and collaboration as part

  • #125143


    another vote for Citizen-centric services.

    Really, I’d love to see him blog and tweet to promote innovation and open gov, achieving some real conversation around these topics. It would be great to see someone from the Fed Gov be as engaged as @CoreyBooker.

  • #125141

    Steve Radick

    Andy – I didn’t mean to imply that we should enforce uniformity, as much as enforcing re-use. I don’t think, for example, the EPA should be FORCED to use the GSA licensing agreements, but they should be forced to justify why they would need a separate, unique one that would require more work to get done. There isn’t nearly enough re-use and collaboration among agencies – this is just one example. Yes, each agency is somewhat unique, but we must break this culture where every other agency is an adversary instead of a partner. We’re seeing some of this across the government in the social media world, whether we’re talking about the Web Manager’s Council, the Social Media SubCouncil, or the DoD’s All Services Social Media Council – we should be encouraging this sort of sharing and collaboration across ALL areas of technology, not just social media.

  • #125139

    Steve Radick

    Haha – did you just say that I’d make a great Deputy CTO? I think some of my techie colleagues would have quite the chuckle at that! If I were to get into that position though, I can tell you that I’d know enough that I’d hire some REALLY smart engineers to help me develop that roadmap and identify other talented engineers from the right schools. One of the first things that I’d do though is get someone from Ritz-Carlton or Disney to come in and talk with us so that we can learn more about how they’ve created this sort of culture across all of their properties across the world. I’d then start down the same path they traveled – reinforcing the absolute need for better customer service in everything the government does, and how technology can help us achieve that.

  • #125137

    Steve Radick

    @Andy – yes, odd would be one word I’d use to describe that 🙂

  • #125135

    Andrea Schneider

    Thanks GovLoop!

    Dear Chris,

    Open Up Open Government. Remarkable ideas need innovative organizations to flourish. Make sure we have access to submit new ideas. Make sure influence in Open Government remains open. Integrate the framework/principles into the business of government, into our systems and organizations, in a sustainable way.

    • What do you think should be his top priority?

    Expand participation within and beyond government, create an Innovation Center, pull together converging fields of interest, facilitate Open Gov demonstration projects. Look beyond the use of technology and data collection to the additional work that must be done. Access has to expand, not contract.

    • Should he focus on one of the pillars — transparency, participation or collaboration — over another?

    They are all important. How they work together and what they mean to implement is different organizationally and operationally. Open Government requires open systems thinking.

    • What action can he take that will have the greatest impact within agencies?

    Create agency champions and leaders. Asses and build agency capacity to understand and and implement Open Government. Partner up with philanthropy and business to fund OpenGov demonstration grants. Use papers like Innovation in Government (innovationingovernment-2011-02-03-110306111432-phpapp01) and other recent reports to inform actions.

    • How about the action that achieves the biggest impact on citizen engagement?

    Don’t know yet what achieves the biggest impact, however, don’t rely on one methodology or channel to accomplish goals.

    Invite practical proposals for the implementation of Open Gov and Innovation in Government (I admit I have a big one). Distinguish between Gov 2.0 (technology and data centered) and the broader fields of innovation, open government, sustainability in government, organizational design, design-thinking and other arenas of thought and action. Technology is a critical tool and a game changer, but it isn’t the only thing going on. I’m sure the President’s vision is bigger and more inclusive.

  • #125133

    Scott Horvath

    Agreed. I don’t, personally, feel that agencies should need to create separate TOS agreements for each vendor simply because they feel they’re unique. Providing justification for why you can’t use a TOS which has already been through the legal-wringer multiple times over would be a better requirement to enforce. If we want to reduce waste and excess spending, find the root of the problem. Granted there’s some things that could be removed or improved upon, I’m sure. But being able to simply re-use existing TOS agreements, encourage more agencies to leverage existing technologies, etc may not solve budget issues, but it’ll certainly help.

  • #125131

    Scott Horvath

    There’s so much great discussion here about what the new CTO should do that I will only say “here here” on many of the ideas presented. However, I will say that if Chris is reading this discussion, he’s already got his entire career goals written out for him. Good luck Chris…you’re being held to a very high bar and even higher expectations.

  • #125129


    I understand that he is the new @opengov. can anyone confirm?

  • #125127

    Michael Lennon

    AGREE with you about the importance of culture (or as we have been characterizing it “Equipping the Public Manager to lead open innovation”)

    DISAGREE that IT &/or Engineering schools are the right place to begin seeking Organization Development (or Human Factors) talent

    At the sister GovLoop discussion, we have been exploring some of these ideas and have developed the slide deck below as a “Case for Action” (slide 7 is the key point; please forgive the “rough state” of the draft) :

    We also have some very specific capacity-building initiatives including a curriculum planning effort for “Cultivating Govpreneurs“. If folks are interested, let me know, we can use all the allies we can get.


    Michael Lennon

  • #125125

    I hear ya – more about sharing, right? Repositories of useful templates and models that other agencies can build upon vs. starting over?

  • #125123
  • #125121

    I am hearing this report being referenced again and again. It’s important and I am not sure a lot of people are talking about it. Is it because it’s released and nothing’s ever done about it?

  • #125119

    Case in point: the President mentioned “government reorganization” in the SOTU, but it continues to be a very nebulous concept several weeks later…as evidenced by this blog post about an event at NAPA yesterday.

  • #125117

    Agreed…and tied into the GAO Report on Redundancies (as suggested by Susan above)…turn over that information to citizens to come up with innovative ideas for consolidation and cutting.

  • #125115

    Dr. Trish

    I believe that if we expect people to, for example, collaborate on software systems, we need the best human factors people we can find to be on, and have an equally respected voice on, the design, development, implementation, test and evaluation teams. In addition to human factors people, we also need to open the teams to lots of end users – novice as well as experts – also with an equally respected voice on the teams. Also, we need to test and evaluate our systems on people representative of all levels of computer expertise, again from novices to expert users. We need systems that are as intuitive as a Google search, rather than requiring end users to take classes on how to use, for example, a collaborative system complete with a 150-page manual on how to use the system. I’ve evaluated many a system for usability, only to find that people desparately want to use the system, but cannot get beyond the first few pages of instructions, much less remember those instructions. In testing and evaluating a collaborative system, we need to use several methods that incorporate both subjective and objective metrics to find out if the system is more effective, efficient, and satisfying than what people use now to collaborate (e.g., the phone, videoconferencing, e-mailing, face-to-face meetings, etc), If the new system is no more effective, efficient, and satisfying that what people use now, we should not invest in or expect people to use the new system.

  • #125113

    Winston G Holt

    I definitely think that his top priority should be transparency.Despite the stated goal of the administration for greater governmental transparency I think this has yet to be realized.

  • #125111

    Steve Ressler

    Yep – that’s the only downside of a job like that. Super high expectations so I think in the end you have to narrow and focus on only a few things as you can’t do it all (it’s hard to create change and move the ball forward)

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