Be a Presidential Innovation Fellow by@RobertLeeRead

Be a Presidential Innovation Fellow

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Robert L. Read


Logo of the Presidential Innovation Fellows

The Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIFs) are awesome, and they are hiring.

The Fellows are the vanguard of innovation within government, specifically tasked with creating innovative solutions to huge problems within the US Federal Government. You spend a year in Washington D.C. as a part of a team of 15 to 25 other Fellows, each trying to guide the ship of state technologically and sometimes in policy — especially tech policy.

Application is competitive, as is pay. You don’t have to have great credentials —but you do have to be an impact junkie. You have to be ready, willing and able to instigate change in huge bureaucracies that resist change. I believe the PIF leadership is devoted to recruited a diverse and gender-balanced class in 2018.

The primary tools of the Presidential Innovation Fellows are openness and agility. This means open-source software, openly designing with the users, being willing to change course quickly if you discover it makes sense, using Agile and Lean software development approaches, being agile in your approach to policy, and, above all, leading by example by prototyping solutions that the bureaucracy might miss without your instigation.

Many of you may ask: is it moral to work for the Trump Administration? I say it is, if you do so as a Fellow. There is no extreme vetting or loyalty tests for Fellows. Although the word “Presidential” is in the title and is important, I was never in the same room with President Obama during my Fellowship, although I went to the White House often and I treasure the thank-you letter signed by his auto-pen that I have framed beside my bed. You will probably not be involved in any high-level politics, and in the unlikely event that you are asked to do anything unsavory, you can resign.

Whatever you think of the current policies, government must continue to function, as it serves to do for the American people what we cannot do as individuals. We cannot float a ship, build a space probe, help our veterans, secure the Bill of Rights, or manage our national parks as individuals. Government exists to secure the blessings of liberty for all, and it involves day-to-day slogging and computer programming as much as it involves lofty language and legislating. Without the boots-on-the-ground of technological innovators, the Federal Government will fall farther behind the technology curve and grind down, maybe to a halt.

Here are the problems the Fellows will work on in 2018 (copied from the application page):

  • How might we help the Department of Veteran Affairs deliver more veteran-centered services and care?
  • How might we use innovation to help better offer humanitarian assistance in domestic natural disasters?
  • How might the Department of Defense better collaborate with startups to access innovative and emerging technologies and solve critical national challenges?
  • How might we help the National Cancer Institute better match cancer patients to life-saving clinical trials?
  • How might we dramatically improve health outcomes by creating the world’s largest research cohort through the All of Us Research Program at the National Institutes of Health?
  • How might we help the U.S. Department of Agriculture deliver better end-to-end services to farmers?
  • How might we help the Department of State better analyze and interpret complicated global digital and social media environments and help their colleagues better connect with people around the world?

If you are a ball of fire; if you want to make a difference; if you can change hearts and minds; if you love building prototypes; if you love leading by example in coding or writing; if you want to serve your country without joining the military; if you want to join a team making a difference, apply to be a Presidential Innovation Fellow by June 24th (Note: the original deadline of June 3rd has been extended to the 24th).

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