Federal Government Mobilizes on Mobility

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I've written numerous times about the need for the federal government to move toward shared services or at least more standardized IT platforms. I've assigned much of the blame for the government's wildly heterogeneous IT systems to convoluted procurement processes and internal politics. But many problems probably start at an even higher strategic level, with agencies seemingly unwilling and/or unable to collaborate on ideas or share best practices. Lots of mistakes could be avoided and duplicative efforts halted if agencies made more of an effort to learn from each other.


In a bit of heartening news, the General Services Administration is making an effort to corral collective knowledge in promoting the use of mobile devices and applications. An InformationWeek piece about the Making Mobile Gov project cites a blog post written by Gwynne Kostin, director of mobile in the GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, who says the aim of the project is to "help federal agencies work together to share lessons learned and creatively problem solve to bring more government information and services to smartphones and other mobile devices."


Through better coordination of its mobile efforts, the federal government is hoping to avoid the kind of crazy proliferation that occurred in the early days of federal website development, resulting in some 20,000 federal websites that the government is still struggling to consolidate. A Nextgov piece mentions some of the 70 or so mobile government apps that have already been introduced, including the IRS2go app, which allows folks to check the status of their tax refunds and a My TSA app that helps users determine whether any of their carry-on items don't meet security requirements.


At least some agencies, including the Housing and Urban Development Department and the Transportation Department, think the best way to get useful apps is by making quality data available to outside developers.


Agencies are also being encouraged not to think of mobile apps as an afterthought. A FCW.com article describes how the Federal Communications Commission ensured a recent website redesign would facilitate spinning off mobile applications, something the FCC was able to do within six days of the overhauled site's launch. The FCC is even crafting its external communications such as news releases with mobile use in mind, by using shorter sentences and simplified formats.