If you work in or around Federal government in technology, it’s impossible to have missed the White House’s new strategy for the federal government, Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People. In the White House blog, U.S. Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel discussed the strategy as a critical roadmap for government to take advantage of technological advances and ultimately deliver better services to the American people through digital means.
While the strategy is important, much of it needs further interpretation and deeper analysis. But there were real-world examples throughout the roadmap that offered clear insight into how Federal agencies could deliver against the strategy. One such example was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is “liberating web content” by using a “create once, publish everywhere mindset.” Essentially, the CDC syndicates their content and data via application programming interfaces (APIs) so that information was seamlessly flowing into multiple channels. The CDC example was one of the most clear and immediately applicable pieces of the strategy to me. It’s easy to see how other Federal agencies could provide official content while enhancing their digital interactions with the public in a similar way by automating content distribution to various channels.
A more recent example of this “create once, publish everywhere” approach is at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) which recently launched two widgets to allow anyone to easily publish and distribute FSIS content on other digital properties (websites, blogs, etc.):
- News & Events Widget consolidates several feeds from FSIS’s email subscription service and provides access to news releases (including recalls) and newsletters.
- FSIS Policy Widget consolidates the following feeds from FSIS’s email subscription service: FSIS Notices and Directives, Federal Register issuances, scenario-based training, compliance guides.
The FSIS mission relies heavily on public outreach as it is “responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged.” This is critical for the public and stakeholders, including farmers, grocery store suppliers, and more. FSIS’s widgets allow specific information to be broadcast broadly beyond typical communication channels, such as press releases or website updates. Stakeholders or even just the general public can take the code for the widget and use it on their digital properties, helping to promote official content much more quickly and widely.
The FSIS widgets pull directly from digital communications that FSIS is already producing, so keeping the information in the widgets updated does not entail any additional actions or resources. The widgets automatically populate with the most up-to-date news or stories, such as food safety tips and updates during severe weather and recent food recalls. Furthermore, FSIS’s widgets provide an embedded ability for the public to sign up for ongoing updates from FSIS via email — a service that already has over 100,000 active users and that links back to their website, helping to increase web traffic. Leveraging information-sharing widgets to syndicate content saves FSIS time, money and resources, and it also provides the public and partners with an easy way to redistribute relevant and valuable information that directly impact people’s lives and safety.
The Digital Government strategy provides a clear path to delivering better citizen services by leveraging technology and urging government organizations to “go digital.” While there are many milestones to meet, the truth is more than half of all Federal agencies – such as the National Guard Bureau, Disability.gov, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency – are already managing digital communications using a cloud-based platform with open APIs to easily reuse and redistribute content so there is a firm foundation in place to deliver progress against milestones rapidly. FSIS’s widgets are just one clear example of the impact of how creating once and publishing everywhere can provide greater value for both the public and government.