White House to startups: we want ‘badass innovators’

The country’s top tech talent may gravitate to Silicon Valley and New York, but the White House is making a hard push for them to consider a “tour of duty” in Washington, DC.

In launching the government’s new digital roadmap and Presidential Innovation Fellows program, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park said Wednesday that the they’re looking for “badass innovators” to work for “a little startup called the United States of America.”

“We’re looking for a few good women and men to throw their hats in the ring,” he said. As part of the program, the White House will select 15 coders, designers and other innovators to head to DC for 6- to 12-month fellowships, starting in July. Park said the fellowship will focus on five areas: open data, health information, the online system MyGov, an RFP program targeting startups and a USAID campaign.

Importantly for startups, the open data initiative aims to stimulate innovation by releasing information in health, energy, public safety, the nonprofit sector and personal finance and making it machine-readable. Just as the private sector has used GPS, weather and health-related data to create apps and other products, Park said he hopes the liberation of new sets of data will lead to more entrepreneurship in new areas. As for the RFP project, Park said, “if you’re a startup who has ever tried to sell to the federal government, you know it’s a huge pain in the ass.” The goal of the new plan is to make it easier for the government to work with small, high-growth startups on tech solutions.

Park made the announcement with Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel, during a presentation at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York. On stage, the pair also announced details for the country’s new digital roadmap and pledged allegiance to innovation. The overall goal of the strategy is to get the government to use technology to deliver better services for citizens, but VanRoekel said some concrete mandates include getting every agency to create a developer page and convert two priority services to mobile. He also said that, aside from emergency situations, the government would not issue any more .gov domains.

They said the new digital strategy is based on the following tenets: open data is the new default; anywhere, anytime on any device; everything should be an API; make government data social; and change the meaning of social participation.

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