Innovation Fellows combine new, old technologies

Tuesday - 6/25/2013, 4:31pm EDT

By Cogan Schneier
Special to Federal News Radio

The second group of Presidential Innovation Fellows wants to move federal accounting systems into a new era of integrated and cost-efficient financing approaches.

The 21st Century Financial Systems project works with the Office of Management and Budget as well as the Department of Treasury's Office of Financial Innovation and Transformation to create more efficient accounting systems for federal agencies, the White House Blog said.

The White House said the financial systems project is one of nine programs in the second round of the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program. PIF pairs private-sector innovators with federal leaders to solve long-standing government problems.

Other PIF projects include Disaster Response, RFP-EZ, Innovation Toolkit, MyUSA, Cyber-Physical Systems, Open Data, MyData and Development Innovation Ventures.

Round two of the program hosts 43 fellows, compared to 18 in round one.

The 21st Century Financial Systems seeks to abandon the government's current method for implementing new financial systems, which involves tweaking commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) packages to agency-specific needs. This process often can be overly complex and cause cost over-runs, the White House stated. The fellows hope to create a system that uses shared services and standardized requirements to be more efficient.

More specifically, the 21st Century Financial Systems is designing an evidence- based test for the Treasury to be sure agencies are not putting out over- engineered requirements. Using this test, the program hopes to create an efficient process to determine which agency-specific tweaks are necessary and how to accommodate them.

Chris Cairns, a former senior IT program manager at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is the fellow working on the project. He has also held roles in strategy and technology at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), IBM and Unisys.

The Innovation Toolkit is a second program in the PIF. It seeks to use technology to search for and tap into the skills and creativity of federal employees.

Dain Miller, a Ruby on Rails consultant and experienced software developer, and Joe Polastre, a specialist in data analytics with a doctorate and a master's degree in computer science, hope to create an online platform that connects employees by providing learning and skill sharing opportunities.

The platform also would offer libraries of case studies and guides for employees who wish to "think out-of-the-box." The Office of Personnel Management leads the Innovation Toolkit project effort, in concert with the General Services Administration and the State Department.

Four of the nine round-two projects continue projects from round one. RFP-EZ, one of those second-round holdovers, focuses on making it easier for small businesses to sell to the government and for the government to make purchases.

In round one, the project involved creating a platform where small businesses could easily sell goods and services. The team goal in round two is to update the system by adding more information to the existing platform and improving the federal procurement component.

The fellows will create a prices-paid portal, so agencies can improve information sharing and find the best deal possible. The project would hopefully let agencies save significant amounts of money in doing so.

The fellows for RFP-EZ include Martin Ringlein, a designer and entrepreneur who has designed for organizations such as Apple, Google and Mozilla; Dr. Robert L. Read, a programmer and former director of product development at Planview, Inc.; Aaron Snow, co-founder of Darring Software and program manager for Microsoft; and Greg Godbout, who is a software architect, federal-agency consultant and owner of the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse restaurant.

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