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Strategy & Policy

3 Ways to Manage Research Projects Remotely

This post was originally published on the 18F blog. At 18F, we have employees across the U.S. Over time, we’ve cultivated our best practices for distributed teams and design methods. Yet, doing research as a remote team is still really hard. Here are some things that we’ve found make it easier. Six icons showing different types of video conferencing. Use tools like you would in real life Being a remote team doesn’t mean you should forgo any of your research rituals.

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Managing Custom Software Development in Government When You’re Not a Software Engineer

This post was originally published on the 18F blog. It is the first in a series that will share effective and efficient ways to manage software development, even if one doesn’t have a background in software engineering. As custom software development becomes integral to accomplishing any program’s mission, many managers in government find themselves faced with handling the unfamiliar: overseeing the design and implementation of a digital product that is functional, user-friendly, and necessary for realizing your program’s mission.

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HIV.gov’s 6 Ways to Stay Social Media Savvy

This post was originally published on the HIV.gov blog. Editor’s Note: At HIV.gov, our team calls include a weekly update on digital trends. These updates allow us to stay current and inform our work. We recently asked HIV.gov’s former digital strategist to suggest ways our HIV partners can stay up to date with social media trends. Social media moves fast. It can feel like there is a new tool or feature to learn every day.

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NIST Publishes NICE Cybersecurity Workforce Framework

Categorizing and Describing Cybersecurity Work for the Nation The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) is pleased to announce the release of Special Publication 800-181, the NICE Cybersecurity Workforce Framework. This publication serves as a fundamental reference to support a workforce capable of meeting an organization’s cybersecurity needs. It provides organizations with a common, consistent lexicon that categorizes and describes cybersecurity work by Category, Specialty Area, and Work Role. It is a resource from which organizations or sectors can develop additional publications or tools that meet their needs to define or provide guidance on different aspects of workforce development, planning, training, and education.

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NIST Crafts Next-Generation Safeguards for Information Systems and the Internet of Things

Information systems—from communications platforms to internet-connected devices—require both security and privacy safeguards to work successfully and protect users in our increasingly complex and interconnected world. Toward these ends, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued a new draft revision of its widely used Special Publication (SP) 800-53, Security and Privacy Controls for Information Systems and Organizations. Developed by a joint task force consisting of representatives of the civil, defense and intelligence communities, the draft fifth revision of SP 800-53 (8.

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The Cutting EDGE: New Virtual Training Prepares First Responders for Active Shooter Incidents

Amidst the chaos of an active shooter event, preparedness is key to a seamless, swift and effective response—and a new video game funded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory just might do the trick. Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment, or EDGE, is a virtual training platform, available now to all response agencies nationwide. Built on the Unreal Engine, it allows responders of all disciplines to assume discipline-based avatars and simultaneously role-play complex response scenarios.

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Have You Critiqued Your Critique Process?

Whenever I hear someone complain about the process of a design critique, I’m always a bit surprised. Blame it on the fact that I’m a design school graduate, where critique is a mandatory part of the educational experience. I consider learning to give and receive feedback as one of the most relevant and useful pieces of my education. But translating the rules and reasons for critique from a classroom to the workplace can take a bit of practice.

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Webinar Recap: Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) June Meeting

This month’s Plain Language of Community Practice meeting featured Katherine Spivey’s presentation, Plain Language Spectrum: Every Step Counts! In this highly useful DigitalGov University (DGU) webinar, she explains how you can move forward with plain language even when you don’t have permission to edit copy, followed by a half hour Q & A session. Many people don’t get plain language (also known as plain communication or plain writing) right the very first time, but through practice, can gain clarity and improve their plain language skills.

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‘Cybersecuring’ the Internet of Things

I recently had the chance to talk with the legendary Vint Cerf, one of the founding fathers of the internet. We had a wide-ranging discussion about the past, present and future of the internet, network security and what it would take to successfully, safely and reliably merge the digital and physical worlds, a concept known as the “Internet of Things,” or IoT. As its name suggests, the internet of things will connect all kinds of things, bringing us a wealth of data about, well, everything that we can use to improve our lives.

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Advice From Digital Thought Leaders

Many know that digital tools have become indispensable for connecting with many audiences—but we also know that what’s available in the digital realm is always changing. So how do you know what tools are best for your purpose? And how do you plan for your organization’s digital future when the pace of change is so rapid? Recently, we asked colleagues what advice they would give for developing a digital media strategy.

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Fostering Medical Innovation: A Plan for Digital Health Devices

It is incumbent upon FDA to ensure that we have the right policies in place to promote and encourage safe and effective innovation that can benefit consumers, and adopt regulatory approaches to enable the efficient development of these technologies. By taking an efficient, risk-based approach to our regulation, FDA can promote health through the creation of more new and beneficial medical technologies. We can also help reduce the development costs for these innovations by making sure that our own policies and tools are modern and efficient, giving entrepreneurs more opportunities to develop products that can benefit people’s lives.

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Hybrid Cloud: A Key to Phasing in New Technologies

Like any newer technology, cloud computing has faced adoption challenges. IT managers understand the huge potential efficiency improvements and savings that cloud computing can bring to their agencies, but also have questions about security, compatibility, and funding. With these concerns and without a clear path to cloud computing, many agencies continue to maintain on-premises solutions. However, the costs of legacy systems are expensive, and this is a particularly important issue in a budget-constrained environment.

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The Data Briefing: Design-Driven Enterprise Architecture Creating the New Federal Government Agency

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in on enterprise architecture (EA). My last in-depth work with EA was around 2011 when I was on detail to the Office of Personnel Management’s Open Government Team. The EA model I worked with was the top-down organizational design of information technology assets, data assets, and business processes. Many of you are probably familiar with this traditional EA model. Six years later, it is predicted that in 2018 that “half of enterprise architecture (EA) business architecture initiatives will focus on defining and enabling digital business platform strategies.

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From Launch to Landing: How NASA Took Control of Its HTTPS Mission

18F Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Karim Said of NASA. Karim was instrumental in NASA’s successful HTTPS and HSTS migration, and we’re happy to help Karim share the lessons NASA learned from that process. In 2015, the White House Office of Management and Budget released M-15-13, a “Policy to Require Secure Connections across Federal Websites and Web Services”. The memorandum emphasizes the importance of protecting the privacy and security of the public’s browsing activities on the web, and sets a goal to bring all federal websites and services to a consistent standard of enforcing HTTPS and HSTS.

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​Want to Expand Your Innovation Base? Dive In, Run a Challenge, and Listen to Your Customers

The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) is a small agency in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) whose mission is to increase the interoperability and use of electronic health records and health IT. We don’t have the funding and personnel of larger agencies, and, for the most part, this is fine. The entrenched industry stakeholders know what’s happening at ONC, our policies, toolkits and initiatives. But to be truly innovative, we need input from more than just the big stakeholders, particularly in this age of smartphones and apps.

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The Next Step Towards a Bug Bounty Program for the Technology Transformation Service

On May 9, we took a big step toward creating a bug bounty program for our agency by issuing an award to HackerOne for a Software-as-a-Service bug-reporting platform. The TTS Bug Bounty will be a security initiative to pay people for identifying bugs and security holes in software operated by the General Service Administration’s Technology Transformation Service (TTS), which includes 18F. This will be the first public bug bounty program run by a civilian agency, and follows in the footsteps of the Hack the Pentagon and Hack the Army bug bounty programs run by the Department of Defense.

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Becoming an Agile Content Team

In March, the team of writers and editors at USAGov adopted some agile principles in an attempt to streamline our content development process. We hoped operating in a more agile manner would help us address some of the challenges we were facing as a team: Being asked to support many new projects Competing priorities Bottlenecks and silos It was a big change in the way we work. Our previous model had been based on a newsroom-style operation where people were clustered together around specific areas of content or “beats” to use the journalism terminology.

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My Q & A with the IT Industry – What’s Working and What Could be Improved in Federal Acquisition

I recently met with more than 50 representatives from the top IT services companies and talked about the good and the bad in federal acquisition. Some of the discussion was surprising … some not so much. The key takeaways include some changes that are fairly simple for government to implement, yet have big impacts. 1. Government acquisition and program personnel need to be more accessible and increase communications regarding requirements and procurement timelines.

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Cybersecurity: Protecting Manufacturing Technology and Innovation

Recently a segment on my favorite morning news program stopped me in my tracks. The young and attractive hosts (why are they always so young and attractive?) were demonstrating new appliances including a smart refrigerator. The fridge was equipped with all kinds of high-tech features including touch screen displays, a camera inside that allows you to see the contents and Wi-Fi connectivity. You can see inside your fridge while grocery shopping, how convenient!

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DHS Study on Mobile Device Security

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has submitted a report to Congress that details current and emerging threats to the Federal government’s use of mobile devices and recommends security improvements to the mobile device ecosystem. The DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) led the study in coordination with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and its National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence. Mandated by the Cybersecurity Act of 2015, the “Study on Mobile Device Security” relied on significant input from mobile industry vendors, carriers, service providers and academic researchers.

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FOIA Best Practices Workshop Continues This Summer

This post was originally published on the U.S. Department of Justice Blog. The Office of Information Policy (OIP) is pleased to announce two new topics and dates for our Best Practices Workshop series as we continue this initiative this summer. OIP launched the Best Practices Workshop series in 2014 as a way to share and leverage successes in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) administration across the government. Each workshop in the series focuses on a specific topical area and includes a panel of representatives who share their success stories and strategies.

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Build Your Audience by Hosting a Twitter Chat

Twitter is more than just a platform for sharing news and updates: it can be a tool for directly communicating with your community and understanding what is important to them. One way you can connect with your Twitter audience is by hosting a Twitter Chat. They can be a good way to discuss key topics, raise awareness, and exchange knowledge and resources between you and the community. Several HIV organizations host Twitter chats on health topics, during HIV awareness days relevant to their community, and/or during HIV/AIDS conferences.

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A Deeper Look into the USDA.gov Website Redesign

We hope you are finding it easier to get the information you need on USDA.gov following the launch of our site redesign in March. We’ve already welcomed over 1 million visitors to the new site and we are pleased with the positive feedback we’ve received thus far. Our redesign makes it easier for you to get the news you care about quickly and get on with your busy life. Now, you can explore “USDA in Action,” an area designed to quickly share what’s happening across the department.

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OIP Seeks Your Participation in the Development of the National FOIA Portal

The Office of Information Policy (OIP) is pleased to announce its collaboration with GSA’s 18F team on the development of a National FOIA Portal. This is the next step in a long line of OIP initiatives working towards a National FOIA Portal going back to 2010 with the launch of FOIA.gov. Most recently, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 required the creation of a National FOIA Portal that is interoperable with agencies’ current systems and allows the public to submit a request for records to any agency from a single website.

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Improving Stakeholder Collaboration Can Improve Software Development Performance

It’s important for software development organizations to make it as easy as possible to enable improved stakeholder behavior. Development stakeholders can include business development representatives, product managers, and senior project managers, and they are typically carrying the weight of the organization’s mission. They are concerned about the organization’s goals, and are usually focused on ensuring that the software development efforts are effectively supporting the organization’s mission. But they can have a difficult time managing the communication and conflict among themselves, and if this happens, software development and the greater organization can suffer.

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DotGov Domain Registration Program to Provide HTTPS Preloading in May

Effective May 15, 2017, GSA’s DotGov Domain Registration Program will begin providing HSTS Preloading services for federal agencies. HSTS stands for HTTP Strict Transport Security (or HTTPS, for short). This new service helps ensure that visitor communication with .gov websites is not modified or compromised, and hostile networks cannot inject malware, tracking beacons, or otherwise monitor or change visitor interactions online. As part of this new service, any federal government executive branch .

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To Get Things Done, You Need Great, Secure Tools

To folks new to government, one of the most surprising differences between our work and work in the private sector are the barriers in accessing commercially available software, and commercially available Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) in particular. There are good reasons for these barriers: the government places premiums on considerations such as security, privacy, accessibility, license management, and competition. It takes great care to work within those considerations while also providing digital teams with great tools to get work done.

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NASA’s Journey With the U.S. Web Design Standards

The U.S. Web Design Standards were created by the government, for the government. They’re currently implemented on hundreds of government sites, with an audience of more than 26 million monthly users. They’ve also been recommended by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for all government agencies to ensure a consistent look and feel of their public-facing digital services. Over the coming months, the team will be doing a series of blog posts to share information about the how different agencies are using the Standards.

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New ITIF Report Inspires a Closer Look at Website Performance and Security—Here Is Where to Begin

The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) recently published a report, Benchmarking U.S. Government Websites, that looks at the performance, security, and accessibility of the top 297 government websites. ITIF is a think tank in Washington, D.C. whose mission is to formulate, evaluate, and promote policy solutions that accelerate innovation in technology and public policy. Over the past 90 days, government websites were visited over 2.55 billion times. According to the Analytics Dashboard, 43.

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Buzzwords for 2017

Along with the New Year comes new buzzwords. Here are some that you are certain to hear about and see this year. Chatbot Short for ”chat robot,” a chatbot is a computer program that simulates human conversation, or chat, through artificial intelligence. They are commonly found on web sites and used to communicate with a person—you might have seen them on shopping sites as a customer service assistant. One well known example of a chatbot is ALICE (short for Artificial Linguistic Computer Entity), an open source, natural language chatbot that relies on artificial intelligence for human interaction.

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U.S. Web Design Standards Releases Version 1.0

The U.S. Web Design Standards are a library of design guidelines and code to help government developers quickly create trustworthy, accessible, and consistent digital government services. Last month, we announced the 1.0 release of the Standards, a milestone that signals the Standards are a stable, trustworthy resource for government designers and developers. By using the well-tested and easy-to-implement code from the Standards, developers can quickly create new websites or have a leg-up in updating existing services to have a modern, consistent feel.

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Letting Go of 85 Percent of Our Email Subscribers

Late last year, Business.USA.gov (BUSA) began transitioning its web presence to USA.gov and with its content, came its social media and email accounts. While transferring ownership of a Twitter account is fairly easy to do from a technical standpoint, transferring email ownership and tools is not. We had to tackle several things at the start of this project: Build new pages where people could sign up to get emails.

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Automatic HTTPS Enforcement for New Executive Branch .Gov Domains

HTTPS is a necessary baseline for security on the modern web. Non-secure HTTP connections lack integrity protection, and can be used to attack citizens, foreign nationals, and government staff. HTTPS provides increased confidentiality, authenticity, and integrity that mitigate these attacks. In June 2015, the White House required all new federal web services to support and enforce HTTPS connections over the public internet, and for agencies to migrate existing web services to HTTPS by the end of calendar year 2016.

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The Life-Changing Magic of Writing Release Notes

A key part of agile development is constantly shipping new features. The team behind the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) beta website ships new features at least once every two weeks. Sometimes the features are big, noticeable changes, such as the new home page we recently launched. And other times they’re small (a copy edit, an adjustment to a button) or under-the-hood (changing the way a database works). With so many changes happening to the product every two weeks, it can be hard to keep track of how the product is growing and improving.

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DigitalGov University in Review: 2016 Training Trends

DigitalGov University (DGU), the events platform for DigitalGov, provides programming to build and accelerate digital capacity by providing webinars and in-person events highlighting innovations, case studies, tools, and resources. Thanks to your participation, DGU hosted over 90 events with 6,648 attendees from over 100 agencies across federal, tribal, state, and local governments. DGU strives to provide training throughout the year that is useful and relevant to you. One of the most resounding comments from digital managers last year was people wanted to be able to attend all of our classes virtually.

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Five Lessons Learned During a Content Audit

As part of USAGov’s efforts to provide our audience with the reliable and quality information that they need, this summer, the Health, Education & Benefits (HE&B) topic desk completed its first content audit. Methodology and Results Data informed every step we took. In order to determine which areas to focus on first, the desk gathered data from four distinct sources: the Contact Center’s usage of our content to answer customers’ inquiries; site analytics; content inventory and review; and website survey comments.

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In a Marketing Minute: Connecting Teams, Promotions, and Ideas

Every first week of every month, USAGov’s marketing team sends an office-wide email newsletter to give an update on past and current marketing efforts and campaigns. It’s how we try to help keep the rest of the office in the know. The monthly newsletter can spur a content idea, a future marketing endeavor, and act as a reminder of what’s coming up that month that contributors need to be aware of.

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FIPNet Digital Imaging Partner Guidance Now Available

Guidance for Contributing Digital Content to FDsys (govinfo) is now available on FDLP.gov. Federal Information Preservation Network (FIPNet) digital imaging partners now have guidance documentation for creating and contributing digitally-imaged U.S. Government content to Federal Digital System (FDsys)/govinfo*. The guidance specifications are based on current best practices from the Federal Agency Digitization Guidelines Initiative and the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services “Minimum Digitization Capture Recommendations.” The Guidance document is provided to encourage libraries and other stakeholders to contribute digitally-imaged Federal publications to FDsys (govinfo) to increase access to legacy and historic U.

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The Future of Technology at GSA

Our work can transform government The potential to transform government and impact the lives of Americans is tremendous. Our country needs the government to work well, and technology is the key to that. TECHNOLOGY IS NOT PARTISAN “If it’s important, it’s important for all administrations,” said GSA Technology Transformation Service Commissioner Rob Cook. GSA Admin @DeniseUSGSA on the future of technology in the federal government. #GSATech #InnovateGov pic.

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Health IT Services SIN — Ready to Serve Agencies

This summer I announced the the release of our new Health IT Services Special Item Number (SIN 132–56) on IT Schedule 70. Now, I am happy to report that the SIN has been awarded to 65 highly qualified industry partners — with that number continuing to grow daily as new contracts are being awarded. With such a robust supplier offering, the SIN is now very much ready to serve agencies’ health IT services requirements.

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Digging Deep Using the Core Model

Recently, OMB released M 17-06, Policies for Federal Agency Public Websites and Digital Services, which provides agencies with requirements, standards, and best practices for federal websites and digital services. This new policy might have some of us reflecting on our websites and applications to make sure we are in compliance. This task might seem overwhelming, but the following methodology might just serve as a much needed guide. Recently, we interviewed Sara Wachter-Boettcher, author of Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content.

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Are Chatbots the Next mHealth Frontier?

In April, Facebook made it possible for organizations to use chatbots to send and receive messages from users of Facebook Messenger. That’s a big deal. Facebook Messenger is now used by 900 million people every month. As the name implies, it’s a messaging platform that people use to send short messages to each other through the app. It’s the most popular messaging app in the U.S, and the second most popular of those apps worldwide, behind only WhatsApp (which Facebook also owns).

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Hualapai Public Safety Meet Old and New Challenges Through Technology

6,000 feet deep, 18 miles wide, 5,000 people per day: The Reality of the Tribal Beat How can a place be remote and virtually unpopulated, yet constantly full of thousands of people and teeming with activity? It certainly seems impossible, but that is exactly the situation at Grand Canyon West (GCW), home of the Hualapai indigenous Indian Tribe and the famous Skywalk. Although well over an hour from the closest town, more than one million people visit each year — arriving mostly by helicopter and tour bus.

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NASA Addresses OMB M-16-21 Federal Source Code Policy

In August 2016, OMB released M-16-21, which seeks to ensure that new custom-developed Federal source code be made broadly available for reuse across the Federal Government. M-16-21 also requires agencies, when commissioning new custom software, to release at least 20 percent of new custom-developed code as Open Source Software (OSS) for three years, and to collect data concerning new custom software to gauge performance. This approach is consistent with the Digital Government Strategy “Shared Platform” approach, which enables federal employees to work together—both within and across agencies—to reduce costs, streamline development, apply uniform standards, and ensure consistency in creating and delivering information.

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The Data Briefing: Four Steps to Becoming a Data-Driven Organization

As the Federal government agencies begin the digital transformation journey, becoming a data-driven organization is even more vital. What does it mean to become a data-driven organization? According to one definition, “[a] data-driven company is an organization where every person who can use data to make better decisions, has access to the data they need when they need it.” There are many theories are on how to create a data-driven organization, but few case studies that demonstrate the actual process.

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The People’s Code – Now on Code.gov

Summary: Today we’re launching Code.gov so that our Nation can continue to unlock the tremendous potential of the Federal Government’s software. Over the past few years, we’ve taken unprecedented action to help Americans engage with their Government in new and meaningful ways. Using Vote.gov, citizens can now quickly navigate their state’s voter registration process through an easy-to-use site. Veterans can go to Vets.gov to discover, apply for, track and manage their benefits in one, user-friendly place.

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Celebrating Nanotechnology With a Day, a Dash, Some Nuggets, and a Plan

Summary: The release of an updated National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan caps a month of activities highlighting nanotechnology. The Federal government continues to play a key role in the success of the U.S. nanotechnology enterprise through the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI)—as was evident throughout October. And one way to ensure the effort is well coordinated and well implemented is through strategic planning. Yesterday, the National Science and Technology Council released the 2016 NNI Strategic Plan, which describes the NNI vision and goals and the strategies by which these goals are to be achieved.

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Applying Customer Service Metrics to Improve Customer Experience (CX)

Lately, I’ve looked at how a government agency measures a customer’s experience. It’s such a complex topic that I would need more than one blog to discuss the nuances behind it. In my last blog, I examined and brokedown three types of customer service metrics: customer satisfaction (CSAT), Net Promoter Score (NPS), and Customer Effort Score (CES). This one is about identifying how easy it is to work with your organization and discover ways to improve service delivery.

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The Digital Transition: How the Presidential Transition Works in the Social Media Age

Summary: Take a look at how we plan to preserve and pass on the digital history of the Obama administration. President Obama is the first “social media president”: the first to have @POTUS on Twitter, the first to go live on Facebook from the Oval Office, the first to answer questions from citizens on YouTube, the first to use a filter on Snapchat. Over the past eight years, the President, Vice President, First Lady, and the White House have used social media and technology to engage with people around the country and the world on the most important issues of our time (while having some fun along the way).

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The Data Briefing: Learning from the U.S. Cities on How to Implement Big Data Initiatives

A recent study of big data initiatives in 65 cities has interesting guidance for Federal big data initiatives. The researchers studied how data is collected and then used for decision making in what they called “the framework for Big Data initiatives.” There are two major cycles in the framework: “The data cycle governs the tools and processes used to collect, verify, and integrate data from multiple sources. Because of the variety of data sources involved, data teams in this cycle are [sic] often composed of representatives from multiple departments to leverage their field expertise and insider understanding of the data.

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Three Small Steps You Can Take to Reboot Agile in Your Organization

This past summer, 18F held an agile workshop for the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. An agency with roots going back to World War II, NTIS is facing a future that requires a strategic realignment towards open data and services. This strategic alignment will also require that NTIS operate in a more nimble, proactive fashion when working with partners in the public and private sectors.

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Social Media Data Deep Dive: Turning Findings into Action

GobiernoUSA, just like USA.gov, is part of a unique effort with a large mission—to guide people to the government information and services they seek. We cover a lot of topics in Spanish via our website, social media platforms, email sends, and contact center. One of the communication channels we focus a lot of attention on is social media, and we routinely measure how our efforts are going. We focused first on our assumed engagement power hitter – Facebook, to learn more from its Insights analytics data.

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Laying the Foundation for a More Secure, Modern Government

Summary: Building on efforts to boost Federal cybersecurity & as part of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, today we’re releasing a proposed guidance to modernize Federal IT. America’s spirit of ingenuity and entrepreneurship created the world’s most innovative economy and keeps us dominant in today’s digital age. Indeed, in 1985 about 2,000 people used the Internet; today, 3.2 billion people do. What started out as a useful tool for a few is now a necessity for all of us—as essential for connecting people, goods, and services as the airplane or automobile.

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Expert Insight on Content Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content

We recently interviewed Sara Wachter-Boettcher, author of Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content. Sara, a frequent conference speaker, runs a content strategy consultancy, and is the co-author of Design for Real Life. She has extensive experience consulting with major brands, universities, agencies, nonprofits, and others to make their content more memorable, manageable, and sustainable. How would you describe structured content? Most content on the web is unstructured, meaning it’s just a page with blobs of text on it.

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Federal Cybersecurity Challenges

These days, when you turn on the news you almost always see another hack, leak, or breach putting sensitive information at risk. But we’ve been focusing on keeping federal agency information systems secure for a long time. For October’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the WatchBlog takes a look at federal cybersecurity challenges. What is the threat? Cybersecurity incidents can pose serious challenges to personal privacy and security as well as the economy and national security.

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Changing the Knowledge Management Tides and Why it Matters: The Federal HR Wiki

Imagine this – a go-to member of your organization just retired, a furlough is approaching, and now no one knows what to do. What communications need to go out? Who is considered ‘excepted’? Can the daycare center stay open? In the absence of mind-melds, how do you make expert knowledge easily accessible to newer team members? The Strategic Initiatives Group (SIG) at the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Office of Human Resources was confronted with the specific challenge of how to transfer complicated programs to new owners with no familiarity, so their team decided to build a tool to solve their specific problem and a host of others along the way.

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GAO to Congress: Federal Agencies Are Making a Difference Through Open Innovation

Federal agencies confront tough problems every day. In searching for solutions, agencies will want to attract different perspectives, test new products, build capacity and communities, and increase public awareness. How do they do it? The answer: open innovation. Federal agencies need to engage and collaborate with all sectors of society, a task made easier by online technologies, says a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued last week. OPEN INNOVATION: Practices to Engage Citizens and Effectively Implement Federal Initiatives is accompanied by an infographic and podcast, all well worth your while.

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Announcing the Digital Acquisition Accelerator Playbook

Built on the lessons learned during the pilot phase of the Digital Acquisitions Accelerator, the accompanying playbook examines the current acquisition landscape and provides an approach to procuring custom software solutions. Our goal is to make the government a smarter and more informed buyer of digital products and services. The playbook has four main sections: Overview Case studies Process Primers The overview section provides background on digital acquisitions and highlights some ways to lower risk when planning this type of activity.

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The Data Briefing: Using Artificial Intelligence to Augment the Work of Frontline Government Employees

You have probably read about the recent release of the White House’s report on using artificial intelligence (AI). As with previous technologies, AI holds much promise in the areas of education, commerce, criminal justice, the environment—almost all aspects of the American public’s life. AI also poses a danger if it is not properly managed and controlled. This is why the report advises that “[a]s the technology of AI continues to develop, practitioners must ensure that AI-enabled systems are governable; that they are open, transparent, and understandable; that they can work effectively with people; and that their operation will remain consistent with human values and aspirations.

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Your First Thoughts on the Social Media Strategy

This post is written by Jeannie Chen, Mary King, and Hilary Parkinson and is part of our ongoing series about our social media strategy. We welcome comments from staff, other cultural institutions, and the public, and will continue to update the strategy as a living document. When we introduced NARA’s new social media strategy in August, we called it a living document. But what does that mean? We wanted it to be the most relevant and up-to-date framework to guide our social media efforts, and to evolve as we worked.

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What Is Static Source Analysis?

In software development, we use a variety of techniques to help us understand the software we’ve written, whether it works as expected, and whether it will be easy to maintain over time. One of the techniques we use is called static source analysis, and it can tell us a lot about the maintenance requirements of our code. Static source analysis (also often referred to as simply “static analysis”) is the practice of examining source code while it’s not running and gathering a variety of metrics on the code itself, without regard to how it runs in an active environment.

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The Data Briefing: Twenty Years of USAJOBS

I recently sat down with Michelle Earley, Program Manager, to discuss the new changes for the 20th anniversary of USAJOBS. 1) What are the three big lessons learned from 20 years of building and managing USAJOBS? I think one of the greatest benefits of being an Agile program is that we are constantly learning. In 2013, our team implemented the first phase of the data warehouse which provided agencies with data that could be leveraged to improve recruiting efforts.

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Transforming the Federal Marketplace, Two Years In

Summary: It’s been two years since we laid out the Administration’s plan to transform the Federal marketplace. Here’s a look at what we’ve accomplished, and what’s next. Over the last two years, we’ve focused on our mission to implement the President’s vision for a modern government– one that leverages private-sector best practices to achieve a Federal Government that is smarter, savvier and more effective in delivering for the American people.

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CX Day In Government: How We All Shape The Customer Journey

During National Customer Service Week, it’s a great time for organizations across industry and government to celebrate putting customers at the center of our work and to think about what we can do to improve our customers’ end-to-end experiences. When you think this big, it can be a little daunting, but the good news is that we’re doing a lot, and a simple shift in mindset can get us much further.

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Near… FAR… Wherever you are….

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) made history today by releasing the first ever iBook version of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). And while a tome about the complex rules governing the federal government’s purchasing process may not sound like a bestseller, the FAR is essential reading not just for federal contracting officers and federal contractors, but owners of small (and large) businesses, too. “Basically, anyone who does or wants to conduct business with the government reads the FAR,” said Dan Briest, Program Manager of Acquisition.

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Further Enhancing the Federal Government’s Privacy Practices

Summary: The Office of Management and Budget is releasing updated guidance on the role and designation of Senior Agency Officials for Privacy. The digital economy has transformed how citizens interact with their Government. Government services related to immigration, student loans, health insurance, and veterans’ benefits are just a sample of the services now available online. By leveraging technology and innovation, the Administration is significantly improving the Federal Government’s ability to provide better citizen-centered services and helping Americans engage with their Government in new and meaningful ways.

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Vendors and Government Strengthen Partnership at Technology Industry Day

On September 8th, the General Services Administration (GSA) held a Technology Industry Day to talk to industry leaders about the products and solutions developed by our agency and to hear feedback on how we can better engage industry. We’re thrilled that more than 300 members of the technology industry in person and via the live stream were able to join us for this first step towards a closer partnership and more open lines of communication about how we can work together to transform federal technology.

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NASA: Open Gov Plan 2016 Outline

Here is the outline for our 2016 Open Government Plan. Let us know what you think. We’ve also posted this on GitHub/NASA for your comments: https://github.com/nasa/Open-Gov-Plan-v4. NASA and Open Government NASA is an open government agency based on the founding legislation in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, which calls for participation and sharing in the conduct of how we go about the business of expanding the frontiers of knowledge, advancing understanding of the universe, and serving the American public.

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The Data Briefing: A New Perspective on the Digital Transformation of Government

One day, at an unnamed agency, the Outlook server crashed. The server stayed down for the rest of the afternoon. Deprived of email and meeting calendars, employees wandered around trying to remember what meetings they had to attend. Other employees went searching for people who they ordinarily would email. There was confusion that made people realize just how dependent they were on a single software program. As the Federal government moves toward digital transformation, I have been thinking about how agencies can best weather the transition from legacy systems to cloud-based, agile applications.

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Webinar Recap: Snaps and Stripes—Sharing Public Service Stories with Snapchat

What does Snapchat, the disappearing message-and-video platform most used by teenagers, have to do with government outreach and communications programs? Well, Snapchat has quickly become an incredibly effective digital storytelling medium, and content creators across multiple government agencies have adopted it as an important part of their programs. A recent New York Times article described how nearly 35 million users in the United States watched highlights and stories from the Summer Olympics on Snapchat.

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The Content Corner: Recapping Content Marketing Trends in 2016—How Have We Stacked Up?

Earlier this year, it was predicted that content marketing would become even more important due to its ability to enhance not just visibility, but also increase engagement with customers—who could, in turn, become great promoters of your content. Needless to say, much of our time these days as communicators is spent on developing, distributing, maximizing, and repurposing content. In the recent blog post, 15 Content Marketing Trends for 2016, it is noted that the “average American spends nearly four hours a day bombarded with different types of content.

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GSA Hosts First-Ever Technology Industry Day in Washington, D.C.

Private industry and government came together to find best ways to deliver 21st century technology to federal agencies. On September 8, 2016 Administrator Denise Turner Roth of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) hosted the first-ever Technology Industry Day to provide a better understanding of GSA’s path to improve the government’s outdated technology systems. The event featured how GSA buys, builds and shares technology for the federal government. “The General Services Administration has a long history of being a strong leader in adopting technology in government,” said Administrator Roth when giving her opening remarks at GSA’s Technology Industry Day.

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Check Out Our New USCIS Instagram Account!

We are fortunate to meet amazing immigrants every day and share in their immigration journeys. Now we have a unique opportunity to share their stories with the world using Instagram. Today, we launched our Instagram account under the handle @USCIS and @USCIS_ES (Spanish version) and will share photos, graphics and videos to highlight our vital work. Our Instagram handle joins our popular Facebook and Twitter accounts. Instagram differs from Facebook and Twitter by being visually focused with photos and minimal captions.

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The Data Briefing: Should U.S. Federal Employees Become Data Science Literate?

The United Kingdom’s (UK) Digital Service has researched ways to increase data science literacy among the UK public service. Data science literacy goes further than data literacy, in that civil servants will know how to apply data science concepts and methods in their everyday work. I thought it would be useful to share the UK Digital Service’s findings to help federal government employees develop their data science literacy. Before discussing how to increase the data science skills of federal employees, let’s discuss why.

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How Do You Redesign a ‘Dinosaur’? Redesigning an Intranet Site: the Beginning Stages

Many content managers in the digital world understand the irrepressible desire to improve, fix, edit, add, and move things around. Indeed, it’s our job to nurture this ongoing process to create, update, test, update again. And, repeat! But, what about those sites or pages that seem to never crawl up to the ‘high-priority’ list and have been perhaps a little, ehh… neglected. For our Web team, this was our Center’s staff Intranet site.

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Building on 30 Years of Experience to Prepare for the Future of Biotechnology

Summary: EPA, FDA, and USDA unveil two documents as part of the Administration’s continuing effort to modernize the Federal regulatory system for biotechnology products. Today, the Federal government has taken an important step to ensure public confidence in the regulatory system for biotechnology products and to improve the transparency, predictability, coordination, and, ultimately, efficiency of that system. In 1986, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology, which outlined a comprehensive Federal regulatory policy for ensuring the safety of biotechnology products.

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Updated FOIA Regulation Template and Guidance Now Available

On September 7th, the Office of Information Policy (OIP) released an updated version of its Guidance for Agency Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Regulations, along with an updated FOIA Regulation Template. These resources were first issued in March 2016. OIP has updated them to take into account changes made to the FOIA by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 and by recent court decisions. As described in OIP’s guidance, while many of the FOIA’s requirements are contained directly in the statute and do not need implementing regulations, there are areas where the FOIA specifically requires each agency to publish regulations and still other areas where regulations are permitted.

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Kanban for Government

Some months ago, 18F started playing with kanban as a way to manage and improve our processes. (It turns out that “DO ALL THE THINGS!” was maybe not the best motto.) Kanban is a methodology that helps you to remove inefficiencies and reduce waste by visualizing workflow. It’s also used to balance capacity and demand by implementing a “pull system” and limiting the amount of work in progress. You don’t have to change anything when you first start to use it, you just put up a board, represent your current work process, put in some work limits, and start tracking what you’re doing and learning from it.

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DNSSEC vs. Elastic Load Balancers: the Zone Apex Problem

This is the final post in the 5-part series, The Right Tools for the Job: Re-Hosting DigitalGov Search to a Dynamic Infrastructure Environment. Federal websites are required to implement DNSSEC, which relies on knowing exactly what server is responding to a request. In Amazon Web Services (AWS), the problem of unreliable servers is solved by Elastic Load Balancing (ELB). An ELB containing one or more servers is presented to the world as a single hostname — say, usasearch-elb.

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The Content Corner: Using Social Media to Promote, Enhance Preparedness for the Public We Serve

September is National Preparedness Month. FEMA’s Ready.gov is encouraging everyone to plan how they would stay safe and communicate during disasters that can affect their communities. Additionally, Ready.gov is encouraging full participation in America’s PrepareAthon! and the national day of action, National PrepareAthon! Day, which culminates National Preparedness Month on September 30. These days, you probably use social media to update your audience on what you are doing, share an interesting article or two, and catch up on the day’s news.

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DATA Act Prototype: Simplicity Is Key

Last week we wrote about how we diffuse knowledge through shared interests and sharing best practices on the Micro-purchase Platform. This week, we’ll focus on some of the lessons learned during the (completed) DATA Act prototype. Importantly, though that project has finished, this post is not meant to be a full retrospective or post-mortem; we’ll be focusing on technical decisions. We should also delineate this from the more long term DATA Act broker, which is under active development.

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Agency Mobile Resources at the Ready Following OMB Memo

Note: This is a guest blog post by Amando E. Gavino, Jr., Director, Office of Network Services, ITS/FAS/GSA. He is responsible for a portfolio of telecommunication acquisition solutions that provide government agencies the ability to meet their diverse set of telecommunication requirements. Acquisition solutions include Networx, Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions – EIS (the future replacement for Networx), SATCOM, Enterprise Mobility, Connections II, Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative – Wireless (FSSI-W), and the Federal Relay Service.

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A Domain by Any Other Name: CNAMES, Wildcard Records and Another Level of Indirection

This is post 3 in the 5-part series The Right Tools for the Job: Re-Hosting DigitalGov Search to a Dynamic Infrastructure Environment. “All problems in computer science can be solved by another level of indirection, except of course for the problem of too many indirections.” – David Wheeler The simplest of our four requirements was to allow customers to choose whether to use the search.usa.gov domain for their search results page, or create a “masked” domain name such as search.

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Quality, Speed, and Lower Costs: Yes, You Can Have It All

This is post 2 in the 5-part series The Right Tools for the Job: Re-Hosting DigitalGov Search to a Dynamic Infrastructure Environment. The last major infrastructure upgrade that DigitalGov Search had was in 2010. Not only has technology evolved significantly since then, but so have business models for right-sizing costs. Moving to Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure allowed us to improve reliability by creating self-healing servers and distributing the service across four physically isolated datacenters, and reduce datacenter costs by 40% per month — no longer do we have to pay for peak throughput capacity overnight, on weekends, or during other predictably low-traffic periods.

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Sign up for the Technology Industry Day

The General Services Administration (GSA) is known for managing federal real estate and leveraging the government’s buying power to get the best deal for taxpayers, but it also drives and leads technology and innovation within the federal government. The Technology Transformation Service (TTS) builds, buys and shares tech to help federal agencies achieve their mission. They create better services for citizens everyday. TTS works closely with the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) and the GSA CIO to be first movers in and apply agile technology in a meaningful way.

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Rebooting the Social Media Strategy for the National Archives

In six years, you can get a lot done! If you are the International Space Station, you could have orbited the earth 35,040 times. If you are Apple, you could have released 10 new iPhones. If you are the National Archives, you have gone from zero social media accounts to over 100! It’s been six years since NARA’s first social strategy was released. Things have changed in the digital universe, and so we’ve been working on a reboot of our social media strategy.

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How Creating On-The-Fly Digital Content Can Fill an Immediate Audience Need

When some U.S. athletes at this month’s Olympic Games started showing up at their events with dark red circles on their torsos, sports commentators and the media hungrily sought answers to what the marks could be. In less than a day after the spots were…spotted, the story of the mysterious circles was becoming clearer: they were the result of cupping—a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice that involves placing cups on the skin to create suction.

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What Happens When the Whole Team Joins User Interviews

The CALC team is an agile team of four — six if you count the Scrummaster and the Product Owner — building a simple means to load price data into the original CALC tool. They’re an Agile team, which means everybody pitches in on everything to some degree, and here, in their own words, is some reflection on what happened when they all scrubbed in on the Discovery phase. How have you been conducting the Discovery phase?

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The Right Tools for the Job: Re-Hosting DigitalGov Search to a Dynamic Infrastructure Environment

This is the first post of a 5-part series. DigitalGov Search is a commercial-grade search engine provided as a shared-service by the United States General Services Administration. We power about 2,300 search configurations for hundreds of federal, state, and local government agencies. Using our platform, agencies can easily configure a search experience for the public that brings together resources from across their many publishing platforms: websites, blogs and feeds, social media, and government-specific resources like rules and notices from the Federal Register, and posts from USAJobs.

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Live Streamed Demos for Exponential Transparency and Information Sharing

This spring, the eRegulations Notice & Comment team began building out a new feature set for the platform — adding the ability for agencies with proposed regulations to show the public more precisely the changes being proposed and allow agencies to receive more granular, contextual, and better-organized comments. One of the challenges we wrestled with was how to share our work out frequently and openly with the dozens of interested parties, while not making that a blocker in focusing on our work of doing many demos for the many different parties interested in and informing our work.

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The People’s Code

Summary: Today, we’re releasing the Federal Source Code policy to support improved access to custom software code developed by or for the Federal Government. “If we can reconceive of our government so that the interactions and the interplay between private sector, nonprofits, and government are opened up, and we use technology, data, social media in order to join forces around problems, then there’s no problem that we face in this country that is not soluble.

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The Content Corner: On-The-Fly Content Strategies (Round-offs, Back Handsprings, & Double Twisting Layouts Not Required)

As effective marketers and communicators, we are constantly seeking new and improved ways to reach our audience or customer base. These days, our “online lives” intersect with every activity we are involved in, so timeliness is essential. With fresh ideas and engaging, perhaps interactive, content, we can literally make a difference in the lives of our audience. Much of this can be developed and organized through a well thought-out content calendar in advance that seeks to align our content with upcoming events and trends that our audience is interested in.

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CSAT, NPS, and CES: 3 Easy Ways to Measure Customer Experience (CX)

Have you ever wondered how to measure a customer’s experience? I’ve thought about it, specifically about how to measure the experience with services from government agencies. This is a complex topic because government services can be vastly different from each other. These services range from: issuing fishing and hunting permits, social security benefits, unemployment insurance, job training, business licenses, food inspection, and medical and mental health services to veterans. Honestly, I was overwhelmed.

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That Six-Letter Word: Change

One of the biggest challenges in implementing a new technology or process is change. Change creates a multitude of feelings; for some it is apprehension and uncertainty, while for others it is excitement and acceptance. Change management is defined as “a systematic approach to dealing with change, both from the perspective of an organization and the individual.” Creating a Culture of Change Change agents are people willing to push for enhancement.

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Promoting the Use of Green IT

Summary: We’re taking action to accelerate efforts to increase the efficiency of Federal data centers, reduce costs, and improve the government’s overall IT security posture. Today, the Administration is taking action to accelerate efforts to increase the efficiency of Federal data centers, reduce costs, and improve the overall information technology (IT) security posture of the Federal Government. In 2010, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) launched the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) to promote the use of green IT: that is, reduce the overall energy and real estate footprint of government data centers; reduce the cost of data center hardware, software, and operations; increase the overall IT security posture of the Federal Government; and shift IT investments to more efficient computing platforms and technologies.

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Build Empathy With Stakeholder Interviews, Part 2: Conversation

A few weeks ago, the State Department held its first conference dedicated to user experience design, UX Exponential. The conference organizers invited me to speak, and in this two-part series I hope to summarize (as best as possible) the presentation I gave, “Foster The People: Building Empathy with Stakeholder Interviews.” In the first post of this series, I covered what stakeholder interviews are, why they’re valuable, and how to prepare for them.

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Managing Federal Information as a Strategic Resource

Summary: Today, OMB is releasing an update to Circular A-130, the Federal Government’s governing document for the management of Federal information resources. Today the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is releasing an update to the Federal Government’s governing document for the management of Federal information resources: Circular A-130, Managing Information as a Strategic Resource. The way we manage information technology (IT), security, data governance, and privacy has rapidly evolved since A-130 was last updated in 2000.

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Information Architecture vs Content Strategy—and Why YOU Need Both

The idea of portable content is nothing new. Content needs to be mobile ready, responsive, and readily consumed by tools such as the Internet of Things (IoT)—a proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data. Developers need to stop creating fixed, single-purpose content and start making it more future-ready, flexible, and reusable. Two significant factors assist in portability are information architecture (IA) and content strategy (CS).

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Where Content and Marketing Meet: An E-mail Case Study

Content marketing is everywhere and you’re hearing more about it every day—but how do you do it well? While content marketing can take many forms (articles, infographics, videos, and more), it shares a common purpose: providing useful content to attract new customers to your product or service. At USAGov, customized e-mail messages to our subscribers represent one of our most powerful content marketing tools. What’s the Core Concept? Every USAGov e-mail begins with an idea either from our content or marketing team.

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Enhancing our Nation’s Cybersecurity

The mission of U.S. General Services Administration (GSA)’s Integrated Technology Services (ITS) is to deliver best value technology solutions to the government and the American people, and one of the most critically important capabilities that our nation currently needs is strengthened cybersecurity. We have been working with numerous other federal agencies to ensure that the government has the tools and know-how it needs to protect our systems, data, and information.

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The Data Briefing: I, For One, Welcome Our New Chatbot Blockchain Digital Autonomous Organizations

It is at the intersections of fields where you find the most fascinating and innovative concepts. Recently, a conference on “Open Human Resources and the Cognitive Era” explored the use of chatbots and blockchain technologies in human resources. Human Resources (HR) is quietly undergoing a revolution as many HR practitioners are transforming HR by using open source concepts. It is fascinating to see how cognitive technologies and cloud technologies are changing HR from a transactional and compliance function to an essential strategic organizational asset.

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Build Empathy With Stakeholder Interviews, Part 1: Preparation

A few weeks ago, the State Department held its first conference dedicated to user experience design, UX Exponential. The conference organizers invited me to speak, and in this two-part series, I’d like to summarize (as best as possible) the presentation I gave, “Foster The People: Building Empathy with Stakeholder Interviews.” In this post, I’ll cover what stakeholder interviews are, why they’re valuable, and how to prepare for them. In the second post, I’ll cover how to actually run the interviews as well as some tips for synthesizing and integrating the results into the team’s shared understanding.

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WCMS and Custom APIs—Which One Is Right for You?

****Gray Brooks of GSA gave us a great definition of APIs in the DigitalGov University (DGU) presentation, Introduction to APIs. He described APIs as “Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, are web services that allow people to more easily consume content and data in multiple ways—via mobile devices, mobile apps, innovative mash-ups, and much more.” Simply put, “APIs are a better way to get government information and services into the hands of the people who need them.

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Using Plain Language to Bridge the Gap Between Government and Industry

Much of our work with government partners to deliver better digital services has resulted in full websites, applications, and embarking on large-scale transformation efforts. In addition to those types of projects, we also work on shorter, faster, smaller-scale projects designed to show our partners different points of view and different techniques to approach their most challenging problems. Recently, we partnered with the Office of Integrated Technology Services (ITS) here within the General Services Administration (GSA) on a four-month effort to develop a plain language guide, informed by research and interviews, to help technology companies interested in doing business with the federal government better understand how to join IT Schedule 70.

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The Data Briefing: NASA’s New Big Data Strategy

Few other federal agencies deal with as much data as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Big science creates big data, and NASA manages many of the biggest science projects in world history. Even in the early days of NASA’s history, NASA pioneered new ways to create and store data. So, in the world of the cloud, Internet of Things, and intelligent agents, how does NASA deal with its big data needs?

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How to Make Your Facebook Content ‘Pop’ with Images

Facebook is a highly visual medium. Studies show that Facebook posts featuring photos are the most noticed, liked, and shared. Posts featuring an image stand out in the news feeds of people who like your page. While a great image can cut through the clutter, you don’t need to fill your feed. Think “representative” and high-quality images. Showcase a few great pictures that give a sense of an event–an AIDS walk, for example–and share the photos that bring to life an aspect of your work or your agency’s services.

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Modernizing Federal IT Part 5: Modernizing Software Architecture

This is the fifth in a series describing how the Social Security Administration is working towards a more modern IT infrastructure. You can find part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here and part 4 here. In the next three posts we will consider the problem of modernizing old legacy software. In this post we will start a discussion about why modernizing software is important and what is most important to think about first.

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The Great Pinterest Experiment: One Year In

Last summer, Kids.Gov revamped its presence on Pinterest in an attempt to find new ways to connect with its followers. The Marketing Team set out to learn more about our audiences and the kind of content they like. Despite being a difficult platform to navigate, we set lofty goals for ourselves and developed a timely strategy to pin every day. A year in… Twelve months later, our metrics are up and we correctly calculated that a shift to educational content would be key.

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Taking an Agile Approach to Content

So, you’ve recently joined an agile team — congratulations! Here at 18F, we work in an agile way — in other words, we base our designs on user needs, conduct usability testing, iterate quickly, and release MVPs (minimum viable products) rather than highly finalized releases. We take an agile approach to content too. While there’s really no “ideal” project or process most of the time, we’ve found that these guidelines help us develop useful services for millions of people.

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Welcome to the New DHS.gov

Today, I am happy to announce the newly optimized DHS.gov website. Over the past year, DHS has worked behind the scenes to update and modernize our flagship website, making it faster and easier to use. Some of the specific differences you’ll see are: Compatibility for both desktop computers and mobile devices (phones and tablets) Cleaner, easier-to-read site format and presentation Faster and more accurate site navigation using our internal search function and external search engines (like Google and Bing) DHS.

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Help Search Engines Help You: How SEO-Friendly URL Structure Can Boost Your Rankings

Have you ever wished you could get inside the mind of Google? To figure out what makes its search engine tick? How great it would be if that were easy to do. Well, actually it is. I realized that recently when I was doing research for one of my personal passions, which is finding invasive plants in local parks and eliminating them. I wanted to see what information the Forest Service had on that topic, so I searched for “forest service invasive species removal.

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Open Data Democratizes Innovation

Americans Use Public Data to Improve the Lives of Fellow Citizens Data is one of our most important national assets. It informs our policy and our national priorities. But as we have seen time and time again, the most effective way to govern is to engage with the public directly. Thanks to the President’s Executive Order requiring that agencies make data open, we are democratizing access to data.

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The User-Centered Redesign of IdentityTheft.gov

I first came across the redesigned IdentityTheft.gov on Reddit, of all places. Someone had posted a link to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) newly redesigned site and wrote: I hope this never happens to any of you as the entire thing can be really stressful. The identitytheft.gov website is a true breath of fresh air…You can talk to an actual person. They also have this extremely easy wizard to click through your situation and it will auto-generate a “Recovery Plan” including dispute letters, steps to contact law enforcement, putting credit freezes, and basically protecting yourself.

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Kids.Gov Reenvisioned

At USAGov, we always put our customers first. In the wake of our rebranding efforts, our desire to create a positive user experience across the organization has pushed us to turn a scrutinous eye toward Kids.gov — a site focused on providing information and resources to parents, teachers, and kids. In a cross-organizational effort, individuals from the marketing, user experience, and performance measurement teams have joined forces to “reenvision” the site’s content and presentation to better suit the public’s needs.

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The USAGov Bilingual Style Guide Is Now Online!

About a year and a half ago, the Federal Citizen Information Center—today called USAGov—embarked on a very ambitious task: integrating our content operations. We blurred lines that defined silos and adopted a bilingual content approach to offer a more consistent experience, regardless of language preference or point of access to our information. See more about our rebirth. As we were figuring out our new content model, we saw the need to reinvent our style guidelines to reflect our new organization.

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How Agile’s Being Done in Government

The concepts of agile may not be new, but there is a renewed push across government to embrace this customer-feedback driven methodology, in everything from software development to project management. A government community has even sprung up to help feds learn from one another what it takes to incorporate agile into more efficient and effective government services. So this month we’re throwing the spotlight on what agile looks like in the federal government right now:

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Three Teams Using the Draft U.S. Web Design Standards Talk about Their Experiences

In the five months since we launched the Draft U.S. Web Design Standards — the U.S. government’s very own set of common UI components and visual styles for websites — over a dozen websites have used components of the Draft Standards on their sites. Recently, we talked to three federal web designers about their experiences using the Draft Standards, which were designed with accessibility and flexibility in mind: Maria Marrero is the User Experience Designer for USA.

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Bringing Agile Inside

We hear a lot about agile software development being used in work with customers and end users. User stories are developed, coders and programmers turn them into prototypes, then testing is done to make sure the features work and do what is expected. But, agile is more than a way to develop software; it’s a mindset that favors iteration over knowing everything up front. So how can you have an agile mindset inside YOUR agency?

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National Customer Service Week Is Over, but Our Work Is Not!

Get your customer personas right, and you will improve the customer experience (CX) for the rest of your audience. That’s advice Rick Parrish from Forrester Research gave in response to an audience question during the September 29 DigitalGov University webinar on the state of CX in the federal government. Your key customers are those that are most important to the organization, and often most difficult to serve, he explained.

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CIO Council Releases IT Policy Library

The CIO Council recently published an IT Policy Library database in order to provide agency innovators with a searchable, comprehensive collection of IT reporting and action requirements for federal agencies. Craig Jennings, Senior Advisor at the Federal CIO Council, was instrumental in the implementation of the resource library. Craig believed that all of the policies concerning IT should be in one place to allow for the highest level of transparency and usability.

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How Governance Supports Your Agency’s Digital Government Strategy

It seems that everyone these days is talking about “governance.” But what is it, really, and how can you make good governance usable in your agency? The federal government developed the Digital Government Strategy to deliver better Web services to the American people. The strategy is based on the notion of focusing on customers—the American people—and their needs in terms of providing access to high-quality digital government information and services anywhere, anytime, on any device.

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Trends on Tuesday: 40% of Smartphone Users Look up Government Information

The Pew Research Center released a deep research dive into “U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015” that provided three big ideas and data points for government agencies to consider when planning their digital strategies. More than 2/3 of Americans have smartphones; many of those are mobile first or mobile only Internet users. The report detailed that 6 in 10 Americans own a smartphone (64%), and 2 in 10 Americans now access the Internet primarily through their mobile phone (25%).

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US, Canada, and Mexico Collaborate to Improve Open Government and Digital Services

Many forces are converging to strengthen the political, economic and commercial ties that bind the United States, Canada and Mexico. The GSA Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies (OCSIT) has anticipated this drive toward collaboration for decades, building a network of links among the three nations’ Chief Information Officers and other national technology and data experts. Annual OCSIT-sponsored North American Day (NAD) talks have contributed to improved digital services in all three countries.

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Explore Iconic Overseas World War II Sites with ABMC Apps

We have not forgotten, we will never forget, the debt of infinite gratitude that we have contracted with those who gave everything for our freedom. Rene Coty, Président de la République Francaise Those are the words of Rene Coty, the president of France from 1954 to 1959, inscribed in the American Battle Monuments Commission’s Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center in France. The Normandy American Cemetery is one of the 25 permanent American military cemeteries in foreign countries that the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) maintains to honor the service, achievements and sacrifices of U.

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Trends on Tuesday: Smartphone Growth Reaches 1.3 Billion in 2014

Smartphone adoption rate continues to rise, but the screen sizes users adopt continue to evolve. According to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, smartphone vendors shipped a total of 375.2 million units during the fourth quarter of 2014. IDC states that this was an increase of more than 25%, compared to the fourth quarter in 2013. For the full year, IDC says the worldwide smartphone market saw a total of 1.

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Hiring For Your Digital Needs

The increasing presence of big data and all things digital will require the federal government to hire more techies. The skills brought by techies will help the federal government, but we also must consider that success in the federal government will require more than the skills they bring. The techies may be from the private sector and not completely understand the nuances of working in a federal agency.

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Trends on Tuesday: Are QR Codes Still Relevant?

Recently, I was designing new outreach materials and needed a way to connect this offline collateral with my agency’s digital content. Using a QR (or Quick Response) code immediately came to mind, followed by the question, “Are QR codes still relevant?” Opinions differ on their utility and I couldn’t find any objective data on how often they were scanned by users. Even their inventor has doubts about their shelf life.

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Strategy Pivot Yields Results: DigitalGov.Gov Six Months Later

Six months ago, we launched this DigitalGov.gov platform to support federal agencies in delivering 21st century digital services and information to the public. It seems a good time to share some of the thinking that went into the development of the platform, and what we’ve learned so far. Looking back, we knew we had great content for digital innovators. Here at the Center for Digital Government at GSA, we created the go-to references for federal agencies around Web, mobile, social media, challenges and prizes, and were growing API content.

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Trends on Tuesday: Are only 11% of Websites Responsive?

Roughly 1 in 9 (11%) websites have adopted responsive Web design, according to research conducted by Guy Podjarny in January. While the number has risen in the last 7 months, I know you’re probably a little underwhelmed by that number. But if you are one of the agencies that have gone through the process of developing a responsive site, you are aware of the challenges that can often get in the way of progress.

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The API Briefing: Writable APIs – The Federal Register.gov Commenting Feature

Up till now, all the APIs that have been written about in The API Briefing were read-only APIs. That means that information is only one way: from the API to the user or app. These APIs do allow limited interactivity in that the database behind the API can be searched, but the existing data cannot be edited, or new data added to the database. There are some federal government APIs that are writable.

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Lean Startup: Changing Government Services and Agencies to Better Serve the Citizens

It is easy to start a business today and especially an Internet-based business. Using the cloud, APIs, and hosted applications, an entrepreneur can quickly build a website/mobile app. The entrepreneur can hire freelancers to do everything from creating a logo to writing a business plan. Virtual assistant services can provide on-demand staff to meet business needs. Yes, it is easy to start a business. The hard part is creating and sustaining a business.

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The API Briefing: NIH’s Pillbox – Unlocking Valuable Government Health Information through APIs

The Food and Drug Administration collects drug labeling information for human prescription, over-the-counter, homeopathic, and veterinary products through a special markup language called “Structured Product Labeling” (SPL). The database created from the SPL submissions is a treasure trove of health information that is valuable to pharmacists, doctors, and the ordinary health consumer. The problem is that data is hard for developers to access and process. Until recently, when the National Library of Medicine released open source code for “Pillbox.

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Because It’s Hard

Two years ago, federal agencies were set on a fast track to create a 21st century digital government. The Federal Digital Strategy served up a heaping set of deliverables on a tight timeline. Agencies opened data sets, built mobile apps and websites, published APIs, created and updated digital governance structures, and joined with other agencies in measuring digital services performance. Last May, as the final deadlines were met, some asked, “What’s next?

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Trends on Tuesday: How Contact Centers are Adapting to the Mobile User

While it does provide challenges, anytime, anywhere digital government provides numerous opportunities for contact centers to do business more effectively. According to this study by Compare Business Products, one of the most important impacts for contact centers is that smartphone users can now connect with contact centers via voice calls, SMS messages, Internet pages, social media video chat and native apps. While mobile is changing user habits, the study states, “those contact centers that are able to embrace these channels and make it easy for customers to contact them through any of these at their whim will naturally be those that rise to the top of the pile and impress their customers.

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EPA Mobile Projects Update

Earth Day is next week, so today instead of featuring one mobile product like we do every Thursday, we’re highlighting how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is tackling mobile to help empower citizen environmental decisions. Currently, you can access EPA’s mobile website, a number of EPA apps, and the agency has a dedicated team working on mobile product decisions. Last month, EPA reported on the status of current mobile projects.

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Extreme Makeover: GC News Release Edition

The Government of Canada (GC) is retiring the traditional news release format in favour of a more digital-friendly product that makes the key messages of announcements clearer, quick facts more accessible and integrates more effectively with social media channels. The old style release – which hasn’t changed in over 50 years – disappeared on December 31, 2013. Gone with it are the dense blocks of text that make it hard to read, the use of long titles in headlines and leads and the use of complex jargon.

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9 Reasons Your Agency Should Have A CMS

Why Invest in a Content Management System? Does it take too long to update and post digital content? Do you lack consistent branding across your website(s)? Is outdated, redundant content leading to a poor customer experience? Does your agency website show up too far down in search results? Are you re-creating the same content for different platforms such as Web or mobile? A content management system (CMS) can address these issues and significantly improve how your agency delivers and manages digital information—positively impacting your bottom line.

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What’s Your Strategy? Operational Excellence, Product Leadership or Customer Intimacy?

In the Discipline of Market Leaders by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema, we learned about the importance of being clear about your strategic priority. What unique value do you bring to the marketplace and your customers? In this book, they describe three strategic priorities of operational excellence, product leadership and customer intimacy. Companies that focus on operational excellence don’t innovate products or service. However, they do operate a hassle-free service with low prices.

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Next SocialGov Summit: Challenge and Prize Competitions

A public prize spurred Charles Lindbergh tofly across the Atlantic, and this week social media managers across government will help a new generation of prize competitions take flight. These sessions aren’t just for social media managers who have held a challenge or are planning one — they are for any social media manager who wants to learn how strategy and performance analysis can be used to support emerging technology programs within their agencies.

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Key to Successful Prize Competitions: Define Your Problem Statement

In a prize competition, failing to properly define your problem up front can result in lower participation and submissions that don’t actually solve your issue. To create a challenge that produces viable results, start by doing your own homework. Vaguely defined problems invite less-than-desirable solutions or scare off potential entrants. So use all the data available or even collect new data to pinpoint the crux of the issue. Don’t run a competition for the sake of doing it.

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Mobile First

Mobile First is the idea that web sites should first be designed for mobile devices, including only those tasks/items that website visitors use most. Then as screen real estate increases, add in tasks/features as needed based on user priority. This means the site will work (to some degree) on that shiny new web-enabled gizmo sitting under your neighbor’s Christmas tree 4 years from now. Allows websites to reach more people (77% of the world’s population has a mobile device, 85% of phones sold in 2011 equipped with browser) Forces designers to focus on core content and functionality (What do you do when you lose 80% of your screen real estate?

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Tackling PII in Electronic Data

As non-lawyers peering into the legal world, be advised this post is not official legal advice from the Office of General Counsel. These are our impressions and what we took away from the Legal Learning Series session Social Media – Privacy, Records and Litigation. Do you collect comments and post photos on your agency social media accounts and websites? If so, are you aware that much of that content could possibly be considered personally identifiable information (PII)?

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Privacy Policies, Terms of Service, and PIAs! Oh My!

_Guest post by Cheryl Hackley who works in the Office of Public Affairs at the Federal Trade Commission. _ From my early days of using email, sites like MySpace, and later getting my first smartphone, it was a common practice for me to breeze right past or simply “accept” privacy policies on websites and apps. That was until a few years ago when I joined the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as its first social media strategist.

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Mobile Product Security and Privacy Testing Resources

Security testing is used to ensure that a mobile product does not pose a threat to agency IT systems and databases. In addition, privacy testing ensures that an app does not put the user’s personally identifiable information into a compromisable position. This article was developed as part of the Mobile Application Development Program. See our general guidelines to testing article for more resources on mobile product testing. Government Guidance Please coordinate with your ISSO when creating mobile or digital products.

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Thunderclap Now Available for Government-Wide Adoption

Thunderclap is the latest social media and crowd-sourcing platform available to federal agencies to better engage with the public, with a newly negotiated government-compatible Terms of Service (TOS) agreement. GSA collaborated with Thunderclap to negotiate the amended terms, which brings the total number of tools with federal-compatible agreements to 66. Social media is an easy way to say something. But sometimes it’s a difficult way to be heard, with the vast amount of content being shared every day.

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Using Gamification in Federal Projects

Gamification is the practice of using game technology or design principles for something that is not inherently game-like. Some examples include: bronze, silver, and gold badges for reading a set number of books, progress bars in online surveys, leader boards for top grades on an exam, or rewards for attending in-person events. As gamification projects are becoming increasing common in the government, here are some basic principles and policies to help program managers and project directors make informed decisions around this popular technique.

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How NASA Chose a New Content Management System

A case study on how NASA is choosing a new enterprise content management system (CMS). The Challenge NASA.gov needs a new enterprise CMS. They’re facing issues such as software obsolescence, inconsistent website governance, and a large amount of unstructured content stored in flat HTML files. Their current system is almost a decade old, and the vendor no longer provides technical support. They need an enterprise solution that will enable offices throughout NASA to collaborate on content creation, instead of having each component create content in isolation.

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Government as an Information Franchise

The Digital Government Strategy represents best practices in today’s web services landscape. The DGS outlines a path to making government web services faster, more cost-efficient and higher-performing. It also frames out the digital government that everybody wants by making government information more flexible, actionable and easier to use. America Has Been There and Done That. Really?! Many consider the internet to be a brilliant feat of engineering and innovation, which it is, but what I believe to be the most interesting aspect of the new cyberspace is that it mimics real-world business network innovations that have long existed in physical space.

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Mobile Strategy at the Smithsonian

_Mobile Gov Experiences are agency stories about creating anytime, anywhere, any device government services and info. This entry is a story shared by the Smithsonian._ _ _ The Smithsonian’s Mobile Strategy is designed to be integral to the overall organizational strategy of the institution. This Mobile Gov Experience is a synopsis of a webinar (PDF, 3.3 MB, 18 pages) by Smithsonian’s mobile director, which gives a more in depth description of their process.

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