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White House Challenge: Make Our First 3-D Printed Christmas Ornament

By Rebecca Carroll // October 30, 2014

The White House Christmas tree is seen in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013.
The White House Christmas tree is seen in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. // Jacquelyn Martin/AP

A White House competition for the best 3-D printed holiday ornaments launched Thursday. And it’s not even Halloween.

Apparently there are currently no 3-D printed ornaments in the White House collection, so yours could be the first.

You don’t need your own 3-D printer. Just send in your design (try Tinkercad if you don’t have a better way) in the next week and a half, and the White House will take care of actually 3-D printing a selection of the winners.

The ornaments will be displayed at the White House through the holidays. They’ll also be featured at the Smithsonian’s 3-D data site 3d.si.edu. A few will join the political history division of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

“With the democratization of tools and technologies like 3-D printing, individuals have more opportunities to take their ideas and turn them into reality,” Stephanie Santoso, an adviser at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in a blog post Thursday.

The contest is part of a larger White House effort to get innovative Americans to make things. 3-D printers create objects designed in computer programs by pouring substances in ...

Getting Health Info to Low-Income Cellphone Users

By Rebecca Carroll // October 17, 2014

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The digital divide is shrinking, but that alone isn’t enough to help underserved populations, according to a blog post on the federal website for health data.

“We have so many apps and gadgets to make our lives more efficient and convenient, yet products and solutions designed with and for vulnerable populations are in short supply, suggesting the existence of an innovation gap,” Allyn Moushey, the Department of Health and Human Services' Idea Lab policy adviser, wrote in the item posted Friday.

Eighty-four percent of adults earning less than $30,000 a year have cellphones, and 47 percent use smartphones, Moushey said, citing the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

Fifty-nine percent of older Americans go online, and 61 percent over 80 years old own cellphones, Moushey said. Telemedicine and e-health researchers last month reported that 89 percent of the homeless veterans they surveyed had a mobile phone, and 76 percent used the Internet, she said.

“Unfortunately, this growing trend of mobile and other technology adoption by the populations served by HHS is not being matched by innovative ideas and solutions designed to meet their specific needs,” she said, noting that a quick search of the word ...

A New Way to Find Federal Contracting Information

By Rebecca Carroll // October 15, 2014

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When I started writing up a post about a new alternative to FedBizOpps -- the intimidatingly clumsy government website for contracting notices -- I actually got distracted by it.

The new site was created by GovTribe, a four-man team of former federal contractors that aims to make it easier to track “projects, competitors, agencies, contracting officers and much more.”

(These are the guys who brought us a popular but infuriating list of “annoying” Department of Homeland Security contracting officers and a ranking of agencies whose contract awards are most often protested.)

When I first looked at their new tool -- a Web-based version of the iOS app they released earlier this year that runs on the API they also released  -- I noticed a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call for Ebola workers.

This is when I got distracted.

From the request for information, it looked like CDC might be expanding its airport Ebola screening program. So I asked CDC about this, sending along the GovTribe link. The agency spokeswoman initially did not recognize it as a government document until I sent her the FBO version as well.

Then on the GovTribe site, I tried a keyword search for Ebola and saw all ...

FAA Needs a Cloud for Its PDFs

By Rebecca Carroll // October 9, 2014

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The Federal Aviation Administration is asking industry about cloud storage options for the profusion of PDFs the agency stores. 

FAA’s Aeronautical Navigational Products -- AeroNav Products -- last year stopped selling paper versions of aeronautical charts and other materials to the public, but the program continues to offer them as digital files.

The agency currently stores these PDFs on an FTP server, according to an FAA market survey posted this week.

“The FAA is seeking innovative solutions to store electronic files securely,” the document stated. “The solution must provide reliability and performance consistency that guarantees successful document retrieval via the Web-front interface for end-users. The files must be readily available for public access 24/7/365.”

FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, has roots in the early 1970s, and a precursor to PDF, or Portable Document Format, was released in the early 1990s.

President Barack Obama last year issued an executive order to make government information machine-readable by default -- here’s the PDF. Even though PDF is not considered an ideal format for machine readability, the file type has proven hard for government to shake for a variety of reasons.

FAA’s AeroNav PDFs include procedure publications, enroute charts, visual charts, airport ...

Peace Corps Sees Record Interest After Simplified Application Goes Online

By Rebecca Carroll // October 8, 2014

Peace Corps volunteer Joshua Fuder, center, speaks with residents of Lolovoli village on the island of Ambae, part of the Vanuatu islands chain.
Peace Corps volunteer Joshua Fuder, center, speaks with residents of Lolovoli village on the island of Ambae, part of the Vanuatu islands chain. // Rick Rycroft/AP File Photo

Any holdouts thinking it doesn’t matter how government does its business in a digital age should consider this: The month Peace Corps put its simplified application online, the number of applicants rose 400 percent over the previous year.

After updating the application on July 15, the government volunteer program saw applications jump 70 percent in fiscal 2014 overall, with 17,336 applicants in total -- that’s the second highest number since 1979. (There were 17,438 in 1992.)

“What used to be more than 60 printed pages that took more than eight hours to complete is now a short online application that focuses solely but rigorously on the most relevant information to help the agency select the best candidates,” agency officials said in July.

The new process also gives applicants more say in their fate, allowing them to select specific countries and areas of work and providing apply-by and know-by dates for specific programs.

More than half (54 percent) of applicants still offer to serve anywhere and nearly half (49 percent) still offer take any assignment, the agency said Wednesday.

Peace Corps also has been focusing on outreach and recruitment -- efforts that certainly also played into the dramatic rise ...