Obama orders agencies to optimize Web content for mobile

The president tells agencies to make two key services available on mobile phones within a year

U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered all major government agencies to make two key services available on mobile phones within a year, in an effort to embrace a growing trend toward Web surfing on mobile devices.

Obama, in a directive issued Wednesday, also ordered federal agencies to create websites to report on their mobile progress. The websites are due within 90 days.

Innovators in the private sector and the government have used the Internet and powerful computers to improve customer service, but "it is time for the federal government to do more," Obama said in the memo. "For far too long, the American people have been forced to navigate a labyrinth of information across different government programs in order to find the services they need."

Many government services are not optimized for smartphones or tablets, and other services aren't available at all on those devices, Obama wrote.

"Americans deserve a government that works for them anytime, anywhere, and on any device," Obama said in a statement. "By making important services accessible from your phone and sharing government data with entrepreneurs, we are giving hard-working families and businesses tools that will help them succeed."

By 2015, more U.S. residents are likely to access the Internet through mobile phones than through desktop computers, the Obama administration said in a press release. Obama has asked U.S. Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel to head up efforts to create a comprehensive mobile road map.

"Nearly everyone is carrying smart devices in their pockets that have incredible computing power," VanRoekel said in a press briefing. "It's creating a dynamic, both inside the walls of government and outside, where citizens are really demanding more. They're demanding the ability to interface with government the same way they interface with their favorite social-media websites."

In addition, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park on Wednesday announced the new Presidential Innovation Fellows program, which will bring top innovators from outside government to Washington, D.C., to work with federal employees on new technology projects. Among the projects the program will focus on are open data initiatives and personal health records.

Kevin Kelly, COO of LGS Innovations, a networking vendor focused on the U.S. government market, praised the mobile strategy.

"I applaud the government for having the foresight and initiative to develop a comprehensive strategy to advance of some of the most attractive attributes of today's communications solutions," he said in an email. "The strategy that they have developed, in collaboration with industry, clearly emphasizes the need to provide reliable, secure, and cost effective access to mission-critical and citizen-centric services anytime, anywhere."

One potential difficulty will be getting agencies to work together and share services, Kelly said. "One of the primary challenges, as I see it, will be overcoming the 'trust factor,'" he said. "Utilizing a shared-services approach will definitely yield improvements in cost efficiency. However, it requires one agency to trust another with the handling and delivery of its critical information."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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