Q&A With Todd Park: How The U.S. CTO Is Bridging The Digital Government Gap

U.S. CTO Todd Park

Todd Park became the Federal CTO in March after serving in a similar role with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As the nation's CTO, he is overseeing some innovative tech projects he hopes will change the way American citizens interact with government. CRN had the opportunity to catch up with Park to discuss the new digital government strategy, why the open data initiative is so important, and a handful of other issues and questions sent to us from our XChange Advisory Board members.

Please tell us about the digital government strategy -- how it will help the American people and what you are doing to drive that strategy forward.

U.S. CIO Steve VanRoekel and I rolled out the digital government strategy in May, which seeks to put government at citizens' fingertips and literally bring government to mobile devices, and any device in general, that citizens are using; buy technology in a way that gives bigger bang for the taxpayer buck; and move even more energetically and strongly in the direction of open data.

Why is it important to make government data open and machine-readable?

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This is important because if you open up the data and make it machine-readable, it becomes easier to power innovative digital government services. And, even more importantly, it opens the data in usable form so that all of the other "smart people" in the world -- developers, innovators and entrepreneurs -- can take our data and turn it into magic. They can turn it into new products or services that can improve American lives, help grow our economy and create jobs.

What is one of the key initiatives that you are pursuing to catapult the digital government strategy forward?

One of the key initiatives driving the digital government strategy forward is the open data initiatives program. This program seeks to not just liberate government data in machine-readable form, but also catalyze the development of an ecosystem of innovation that utilizes that data and educates innovators about that data. Through a series of meet-ups, code-a-thons and datapaloozas, we are able to celebrate the wide range of innovations that people are already pursuing.

What is the Presidential Innovation Fellows program?

The Presidential Innovation Fellows program is a program that we launched simultaneous with the digital government strategy. It's a program that aims to bring together the amazing innovators from outside the government and the best innovators inside government. We then create agile teams that aim to deliver game-changing solutions in six months. The five projects that we have kicked off the program with are the open data initiative program, MyGov, RFP-EZ, Blue Button For America and the 20% campaign.

NEXT: Leveraging Innovators Outside Of Government

At what point does the federal government start leveraging this country's IT infrastructure and talent as opposed to developing its own?

I think that moment is now. The central thrust of our approach with open data initiatives and the digital government strategy is that we shouldn't build the tools that should be useful to citizens ourselves; we should open up that data so innovators outside of government can leverage our data to build useful services and applications with their infrastructure, technology, ingenuity and people. We are very big believers in something called "Joy's Law," which states: "No matter who you are, you have to remember that most of the smartest people in the world work for somebody else."

What's your plan to deal with "Policy Lag" where the current federal policies have not kept up with the advancement of technology?

Initiatives like the digital government strategy can close that gap dramatically. If you think about the implications of a move like open data, what we're doing is future-proofing the U.S. government from a technology standpoint because we are saying, "we are going to open up our data and when the world evolves, it will utilize that data in a number of ways." It allows our data to evolve and advance at the same speed that technology is advancing.

If you could give our audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

I would actually give them three pieces of advice.

The first is based on the idea that there is immense innovation talent locked in your organization (I think this is true in every organization), and the most important thing you can do as an innovator or IT leader is to unleash that talent and unleash that mojo.

The second is to embrace the power of the lean start-up approach to change management (an idea first established by Eric Ries). Lean start-up is all about recognizing that strategy, technology and operations are not phases of a project, but rather different facets of the same underlying problem or opportunity with a solution that you have to build.

The final piece of advice is to embrace the power of open innovation and to embrace the idea of Joy's Law. It is to recognize that if you came up with lots of other people to get something done, you will actually deliver much better results, much faster with a much lower cost than if you try to do it all yourself.