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Technology Is at the Heart of Obama’s Second-Term Management Agenda

Susan Walsh/AP

President Obama on Monday highlighted the continuing role of technology in his second-term management reform agenda, using a televised speech to White House staff to also defend the federal workforce and nudge Congress to grant him long-sought authority to consolidate agencies to curb duplication.

“We are dealing with a government that’s not always high-tech or user-friendly,” Obama said in the State Dining Room after meeting with his Cabinet on management efficiencies. “But we have made a huge swath of your government more efficient and accountable than ever before.”

Promising to take advantage of private-sector expertise in new Cabinet members and hires from the technology sector, Obama announced that Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell is heading the administration’s push for “smarter government,” and he introduced several of the 43 Presidential Innovation Fellows who are bringing high-tech ideas into agencies.

Harking back to his 2008 campaign’s approach of using technology to engage more people, Obama cited Chief Technology Officer Todd Park and Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel for their teams’ work “to innovate in jobs, health care and keeping our nation secure.”

First-term technological progress included the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s use of satellite imagery to monitor disasters, use of mobile and Web devices to allow disaster victims to apply for and track their benefits, and FEMA agents’ use of iPads going door-to-door to help determine who is eligible for relief, Obama said.

He cited Whitehouse.gov’s “taxpayer receipt” feature that allows citizens access to details on spending. And he mentioned Data.gov, the site that “has opened huge amounts of government data for free” for private entrepreneurs in areas ranging from what hospitals charge for procedures to weather and climate data.

The president singled out two high-tech companies, OPower of Arlington, Va., which helps customers save on their energy bills, and iTriage of Denver, Colo., which helps patients find the closest health care providers. “Both are still hiring,” Obama said.

“We’ve made good progress but we need to do more,” Obama said, vowing to “drive aggressive management for agencies to be more innovative and more accountable government for citizens.” Innovations “in the pipeline” include helping citizens apply for services on MyUSA.gov using electronic forms that retain the same time-saving memory capabilities online shoppers already enjoy. Agencies will soon make tracking government benefits as easy as “tracking a package,” Obama added, and simplified procurement processes are in the works to make it easier for job-creating small businesses to win federal contracts.

Noting that the 2010 Affordable Care Act’s schedule calls for state health insurance exchanges to be online beginning Oct. 1, Obama praised the Health and Human Services Department for reducing the application from 21 pages to three. “That’s shorter than it is in the private sector,” he said.

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