Federal CTO Looks Ahead to Apps Bonanza

WASHINGTON — Aneesh Chopra, the nation’s first chief technology officer, is looking for the best and the brightest. The best and brightest apps, that is.

In a speech here at a military communications conference, Chopra outlined several of the ways that the federal government is looking to tap the developer community and private sector for innovative new technologies that can cut through bureaucratic clutter and provide inexpensive solutions to pressing government challenges.

“This is beyond just the procurement side of the house,” Chopra said. “I am focusing like a hawk on how we can deliver game-changing improvements in the technology and its use through our research and development enterprise.”

As an example, he cited the White House’s “grand challenges” program, through which the administration called for submissions from universities, businesses and others to submit proposals for collaborative projects to address major policy priorities, such as health IT and clean energy.

The White House is partnering with Expert Labs, a nonprofit group that acts as a liaison with the technology community, to “explore new ways of tapping the expertise of the American people on these grand challenges,” Tom Kalil, deputy director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, said on the White House blog.

The administration is collecting input from the publicon the grand challenges initiative through April 15.

But the way Chopra tells it, similar crowd-sourcing initiatives are sprouting up across the government. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), for instance, is asking developers to submit applications for the iPhone and Android operating systems that could help military personnel in the field, such as an Arabic-to-English translator.

“The framework that DARPA is proposing is a whole new ecosystem of application development,” Chopra said.

Meantime, the National Science Foundation has forged research partnerships focused on cloud computing with several of the biggest names in tech, including Google, Microsoft, IBM and Intel.

Migrating federal IT operations to the cloud in an effort to eliminate redundant or underused data centers and cut costs has been a chief priority of Chopra’s early tenure as federal CTO. In September, the administration rolled out Apps.gov, an online shopping mall where IT managers can browse offerings from firms like Salesforce.com, Amazon and other cloud players.

Chopra again reiterated his goal to “move the procurement cycle to focus on cloud computing.”

Federal agencies are likely to move ahead with the spirit of collaboration with the public as they finalize their open government plans under a directive issued in December by the Office of Management and Budget. That mandate instructed the agencies to draft a plan to make more information accessible online, as well as to develop new ways to engage citizens, such as developer contests to create apps built on machine-readable government data.

The agencies are collecting input from the public on the open government initiative through tomorrow, and are scheduled to publish the final plans on their Web sites by April 7.

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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