HHS finds success with open government tools

Monday - 7/19/2010, 9:08am EDT

Todd Park, CTO, HHS

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By Rachel Stevens
Federal News Radio

Todd Park says the Department of Health of Human Services is dedicating itself to open government through "transparency, participation and collaboration."

Park is HHS's Chief Technology Officer. He spoke with Federal News Radio this morning at the Excellence in Government conference.

"Contrary to what people might assume, I found a tremendous amount of eagerness to be open," Park says. "In fact, I met a ton of people when I first got here at HHS who'd been wanting to be more transparent for quite a long time. They just needed leadership and air cover to do so."

Providing that leadership is exactly what Park was brought to HHS to do. As HHS's first CTO, Park says his role is to be a "change agent" and lead the open government initiative for his department.

The first product of this project is the recently-launched Medicare Dashboard beta, which offers citizens a glimpse into how Medicare spends its money.

HHS is also working to release public health data for open use, Park says.

"The Community Health Data Initiative is an effort to position HHS as what I call 'the NOAA of health data,'" Park says. He explains that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) releases weather data that informs countless products, from mobile apps to nightly newscasts. Park' goal is to have HHS fill the same role for health information.

There has already been some success. Park says that at the March launch of the initiative, HHS challenged developers to use the data to create applications within 90 days.

Park calls the results "incredibly cool." HHS information was used to create everything from a mobile app to track asthma symptoms to a card game that compares health indicators across U.S. cities.

Transparency within healthcare reform is another major effort, Park says.

HHS is "very committed to open government actually being part of how we execute health reform," Park says. "Open government in our minds is not something we do on top of everything else, it's actually a change in how we do everything, including health reform."

On July 1, the department introduced healthcare.gov, which Park calls "a heroic effort by a heroic team."

The site allows citizens to search their insurance coverage options by state and demographic.

"We really see it as an agent of consumer empowerment and transparency," Park says.

By October, Park says the site will include price estimates for private options.

Park says HHS is analyzing traffic patterns and user feedback to gauge the site's progress. But the ultimate test of success, he says, will be whether the site "moves the needle" in terms of the amount of Americans with health insurance coverage.

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Rachel Stevens is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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