This post was originally published by Code.gov on Medium. It’s been a year since the federal government published the Federal Source Code Policy, which created the foundation for Code.gov. In honor of the policy’s anniversary, we checked in with our users to learn more about them, their needs, and the challenges they face. Our users were responsive, proving insights we translated into our newly released metadata schema that powers the Code.
When people think of government software, they often think of COBOL and PowerBuilder 5, with manual software deploys every three to six months on a fixed number of machines in a government-run data center. This perception is sometimes justified, but sometimes entirely wrong. Regardless, the perception makes many developers reluctant to work for the government because they worry about the frustrations of getting stuck in the bureaucracy instead of being able to iterate rapidly, ship products, and deliver value.
As the nation’s primary platform for sharing and improving government software, Code.gov can help the government save millions of taxpayer dollars. It’s no secret that the federal government spends billions of dollars a year on software transactions. So, in an effort to cut excessive spending, the government released the Federal Source Code Policy last year to reduce duplicative software acquisitions. The policy requires that new software developed for or by the federal government be made available for sharing and reuse across all federal agencies.
MedlinePlus is a consumer health website produced by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), available in both English and Spanish. As part of our Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy, we recently added meta descriptions to our health topic pages. A meta description is a short HTML attribute in the head tag that describes the contents of a web page. When the meta description is not available or is poorly written, search engines automatically generate their own version to describe what is on a web page.
December 9, 2016, will be the 110th anniversary of Admiral Grace Hopper’s birthday. Admiral Hopper was a pioneer in computer programming who created the first compiler and whose ideas lead to the creation of COBOL. An apocryphal legend also credits Admiral Hopper with coining the terms “bug” and “debugging.” The GSA’s IT Digital Service Team will celebrate Admiral Hopper’s birthday with a beginner-friendly hackathon. The Grace Hopper Day Hackathon is the perfect hackathon for beginners.
When I joined the code.gov project, I had just over a month to make an impact on the project. The most pressing work seemed to be defining a software metadata schema — a way for agencies to format the details of the software they’ve built. In August of this year, the Federal Source Code Policy was signed. It requires federal agencies to, among other things, inventory their custom software and make the inventory available for consumption and display by code.
Around Q3, I was looking for way to test the HTML and CSS of an online application that was to be public-facing. At first, my office’s plan was to connect mobile devices to the network owned by federal employees on a volunteer basis for testing. All of a sudden, a new policy came down that stated, “devices that were not purchased by the agency could not be connected to the network.
Improving the way the government delivers information technology (IT) solutions to its customers isn’t just a goal, it’s our mission. We at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office know that by publishing our open source code, the public can help us come up with new and better IT solutions. In advance of the new Federal Source Code Policy and in support of the Administration’s Open Government Initiative, we have been publishing content on GitHub for over a year, and it now includes source code for a mobile application for trademarks.
Cancer clinical trials are a critically important step on the pathway for new or improved treatments to make their way to patients in clinics and hospitals in towns and cities across the country. Patients and their loved ones are relying on these rigorous studies to determine whether promising new therapies and approaches might extend how long they live or improve their quality of life. For many years, a steady number of patients with cancer, approximately 5%, have participated in cancer clinical trials.
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.
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.
Daily imagery data taken by the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera is now accessible via a RESTful API available from the NASA API Portal. The Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) is an instrument aboard NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite, which orbits at Earth’s Lagrange point, the sweet spot in space where the gravitational tug of the Earth and the Sun is equal. This allows DSCOVR to maintain a stable position between the Earth and Sun and thus a continuous view of the sunlit side of Earth.
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).
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.
A few weeks ago, Progressive Web Applications, Part 1: the New Pack Mule of the Internet _introduced PWAs and the technologies behind them. We shared that article to the MobileGov Community of Practice and asked about the pros and cons of this approach to winning mobile moments._ What Are Some Benefits of PWAs? PWAs bring a host of advantages over the traditional native mobile and Web methodologies including:
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.
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.
****A mule is the hybrid offspring of a male donkey and a horse. This new species is stronger and better equipped than the species from which it comes. Overall, mules tend to be healthier, more sound, and live longer than horses. They are favored over horses in mountainous terrain because the mule has a reputation for being more surefooted than their equine cousins. Finally, mules do not require expensive grains, eat less and don’t tend to overeat as horses do.
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.
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.
****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.
How to start an innovation movement: Connect innovators with fellow innovators, and find more innovators to collaborate with. This idea underpins a new pilot from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which seeks to harness the power of collaboration among the public and government to better serve veterans. Currently, eight VA centers around the United States are participating in the VA Innovators Network pilot. The pilot allows VA employees to propose and test ideas in a “test small, fail small” environment, with the goal of scaling successful solutions to the entire VA system.
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.
Agencies can participate in the Digital Analytics Program (DAP) by implementing the DAP script block. It’s a simple line of of code that enables you to take advantage DAP: (Example) You can use this line to enhance the Web analytics solution with additional query string parameters. The query string parameters pass data that enable features within the code. They can also help configure settings in the code. It allows you to leverage more features in DAP or extract more data out of DAP.
It seems of late that the focus on coding and technology within the federal space has become out of balance with that of good, solid content. As I believe I have said before with regard to user experience, great technology with poor content is still worthless. Amazing code that delivers poorly written or designed content still can’t help the user. And there is no code that I know of that can make bad content better for the user, aside from the algorithmically-derived content previously discussed.
Government mobile code developed to help make tables mobile-friendly in one agency has now been used in another agency’s mobile efforts. Last month, Clair Koroma told DigitalGov readers about code that the Department of Health and Human Services had developed to make website tables mobile-friendly and then HHS shared it on the Mobile Code Sharing Catalog. Debra Fiorrito from the Defense Financial Accounting Service and her developer, Todd Posius, have implemented the code on the DFAS.