Presidential Innovation Fellows Seek Contributors for Open Source Projects

(This guest post by Robert L. Read, PhD, an Austin resident and Presidential Innovation Fellow.)

The Presidential Innovation Fellowship program seeks to invigorate Federal information technology by bringing industry experts into government for short-term tours of duty. The second class of Fellows is underway now, and have worked on a variety of projects.

The Fellows embrace the open source culture, but so far we have seen limited contributions to our open source projects. We’re trying to change that by promoting our projects more energetically and by seeking your advice on how to make them more exiting to open source developers, designers, and artists. is a rich resource for civic hackers, tech entrepreneurs, data scientists, and developers of all stripes. Here you’ll find information about APIs, open source projects, and relevant developer resources across government. You’ll also find updates on the infrastructure itself, an open source project managed on GitHub.

The Green Button project empowers citizens to learn about their own energy usage. The project is one of our most mature and has a good Developer’s Guide.

Blue Button is the symbol for a patient’s access to their own data. Blue Button+ is the ability to get records in a human-readable and machine-readable format; and to send them where they choose. This enables a consumer to do everything from printing a physical copy to sharing it with a third party application.

FBOpen is one of the most exciting new projects because it seeks to make Federal business opportunities—the billions of dollars of contracting that the government needs every year—more searchable and accessible. As an open source project, it can easily be the basis of specialized portals. For example, it could be the basis of an “Austin contracting opportunity” portal or could promote Texas-wide opportunities. Such a simple web-site, based on this code, which could be set up in a weekend, could materially impact the entire Texas economy.

The Innovation-Toolkit project is a highly reusable, exemplary Sails/Node.js/Backbone project that supports collaboration around projects in a highly configurable way. Any agency, office, mission, or individual can post tasks online and any federal employee with the requisite skills will be able to respond and complete the task. Individuals can also create projects and working groups to propose, implement, and act on their ideas to improve government. “Tiger teams” — quick attack teams that only exist for short durations — can also be created by finding individuals with skills that match the team’s needs. Although serving a pressing need within the Federal government, the code could easily serve the same purpose within a state or city government.

GeoQ is a Django/Python project used by the Federal Emergency Management system. Contributing to this project is a great way to lean about geo-spatial coding—and help the victims of disasters by making post-disaster action more effective.

PricesPaid (P3), my own project, is a Python veneer on top of the SOLR full-text search engine. Unfortunately, it works with sensitive data, so I don’t have a working demo stood up. However, I would love to help somebody deploy a version of this to load their own city or state data. It could even be used for commercial purposes. The code is organized into 4 repositories for maximum reusability, the GUI, the search API, an authentication/utility module P3Auth, and MorrisDataDecorator.

These are great opportunities to join successful projects at the grandest level of our government. More importantly, we need your help learning how to transform these projects into ones that the open source community will be excited to assist with.

Today, the Federal government, and therefore the American taxpayer, is starting to reap the benefits of the work of the open source community over the last 30 years. This is happening simply because the government is indirectly using GNU/Linux, Apache, SOLR, Hadoop, etc. However, direct open source contributions remain a tiny fraction of the total code acquired by the federal government.

Software is critical to the operation of the government and therefore the well-being and wealth of our nation. It is too important to be left solely to full-time government employees and contractors. Imagine a world where the citizen-programmer is a major resource supporting transparent and efficient government. Imagine a world in which every government project was also a citizen project, and blended the talents and capabilities of dedicated employees, contractors, and volunteers, each contributing what they are best at and learning from each other.

If you find any of these projects interesting or have a question, please email me at read.robert [at] gmail [dot] com. I can suggest next steps for a project that interests you, or connect you with one of the project leads. In many cases, you can help us just by trying to install the software. Just email me — even if you are unsure which project is right for you.