Last Wednesday, we joined Dr. Jill Biden at the Code for America headquarters, a non-profit startup that has attracted dozens of civic-minded software developers spending a year building new products and services – powered, in part, by open government data – to improve the lives of everyday Americans.
Dr. Biden celebrated the convening efforts of Code and 10 apps developed by the private sector to improve the employment prospects for our Nation’s heroes – from apps that help veterans build new skills or a professional network, to a personalized list of open job postings. We observed the results of LinkedIn’s “Veterans Hackday” – two of the 44 apps built over a weekend; a collaboration between two tech companies that had never worked together before – Jibe and KMS Software – to deliver an almost-paperless approach to qualify for eligible tax credits; and the impressive work of a veteran entrepreneur, Fidelis, focused on the military to civilian transition.
We saw these and other “Apps for Heroes” because Code for America made a commitment last August in response to the President’s call to action. We joined Code on this mission and engaged a broader voluntary collaborative of tech firms already active in the employment and training online market. They didn’t ask us for money. Rather, we brainstormed how government data, if released in a people-and-computer-friendly format, could serve as “rocket fuel” for their apps.
And then we went to work.
Inspired by President Obama’s Open Government Initiative and guided by the U.S. National Action Plan, we identified at least three areas where we might open up data that had previously been either in an inaccessible format, organized in a fragmented way, or largely unknown to the developer community:
Finally, I thought to share the power of Open Innovation @ Internet speed. At a Summer Jobs + event last Tuesday, Twilio CEO, Jeff Lawson challenged the Twilio developer community to build an “App for Heroes.” In about an hour – from concept to go-live – developer Tony Webster built HeroJobs.org, a text messaging app that sends job alerts to veterans every morning based on their preferences, experience, and zip code.
We were humbled and honored that so many innovative firms volunteered their time and effort to incorporate these – and other open government data sets – as an important ingredient for their innovate employment or training support service. Our visit inspired us to push even harder to release government data, celebrate its use, and to engage our veterans directly to ensure they have the support they need in this important life transition.
Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Peter Levin is Chief Technology Officer and Senior Advisor to the Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs