Three Signs That Government Is More Innovative Than Ever

Think government isn't innovative?

Think it's just a bunch of boring bureaucrats sitting around pushing papers?

Think again.

For the past couple weeks, GovLoop has been highlighting the hottest, latest mobile applications, website re-designs, social media contests and other innovative projects coming out of government. We're calling the series "GovLaunch."

Below are just three of the two handfuls worth of projects that have emerged in the past two weeks alone:

1. Federal Register.gov - For those who don't know, the Federal Register is "the daily journal of the United States," informing citizens of their rights and obligations, documenting the actions of Federal agencies, and providing a forum for public participation in the democratic process. Do you need money for something, you should probably be reading the Federal Register.

To me, this website redesign makes it completely unlike any other .gov site. I like that. It was starting to feel like every agency was copying and pasting from WhiteHouse.gov.  GovLoop members agree with my assessment: this is a significant step forward.  In fact, Rob Richards provides some incredible background and commentary, indicating that the site "appears to include features and functions that were originally developed as part of innovative nongovernmental erulemaking efforts." Think you can do a better job? They released the source code and they are inviting feedback - open government transparency, engagement and collaboration at its finest!   

2. Department of Transportation's (DOT) IdeaHub - You're not the only one who has something to say about the roads and infrastructure that constitute our nation's transportation system. DOT employees are much closer to the problems, and they want our transit to be world class as much as you! That's why DOT just launched a new online community called IdeaHub where employees can post ideas for their colleagues to comment and collaborate. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood explains in his "Fast Lane" blog:

"IdeaHub's a collaborative website where all of our staff are free to participate. Now, we've got over 55,000 DOTers spread across the country. With IdeaHub, a Federal Aviation Administration employee in Alaska can offer suggestions about an idea by a Federal Transit Administration worker in Atlanta or vote on an idea by a Federal Highways Administration employee in Arizona."

Jenn Gustetic, one of GovLoop's Featured Bloggers,was on the project team. Other key members of the team, Karen Snyder and Lillian Christman, chimed in on GovLoop to share a bit more background on this excellent effort to more effectively engage DOT employees.  "I had a chance to see the Demo at the DOT Atrium yesterday for a brief moment," said Andy Palanisamy. "It was just fantastic. The system looks pretty awesome and was thoroughly impressed with the design/UI."

You can't access it if you're not at DOT, but you can reach out to Secretary LaHood on Facebook and Twitter.

3. Library of Congress (LOC)  Mobile App - As Alex Howard (@digiphile) reported: "Last week, an approved application that gives mobile users access to the United States Library of Congress Experience went live in the iTunes App Store. The app is compatible with iOS 3.1 on up and will run on the iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad."  I have not had a chance to check it out yet, but I'm excited about looking at books from Jefferson's library, reviewing edits to the Declaration of Independence and taking a virtual tour of the LOC without traveling to Washington (sure could save some schools a bunch of money on field trips, eh?).

Even more impressive is the fact that they developed the app in-house. That's right, no slick Silicon Valley developers contracted out to create this thing - it's the real deal from "three of our very own talented staff. While this is the first mobile app for the Library, we hope it won't be the last." Me, neither!  Feel free to give them feedback on their blog or on GovLoop.

All of these projects are part of President Obama's "Open Government" initiative - an effort that is not getting covered as much by the traditional press, but is sure to be one of his enduring legacies.  The projects above represent just three out of hundreds of web-based tools and initiatives that seek to engage citizens and empower public sector employees, signifying for me that innovation is alive and the American entrepreneurial spirit is quite possibly more present than it's ever been in the  public sector.