This morning, as one of his final acts as President of the United States, President Barack Obama signed into law bipartisan legislation to codify the Presidential Innovations Fellows program, making permanent a pathway for government to attract experienced technology entrepreneurs and innovators to public service. The bill, H.R. 39, mirrors legislation introduced in the Senate by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), James Lankford (R-OK), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).
The PIF program, which was established by the White House in 2012 and enjoys bipartisan support, brings the innovation economy into government by pairing talented, diverse technologists, entrepreneurs, and innovators with top civil-servants and change-makers within the federal government to tackle some our nation’s biggest challenges. Similar legislation was introduced by the House and Senate late last year, but did not make it to the President’s desk before the end of the legislative session.
“This program provides an opportunity for this country’s top talent to bring their diverse and innovative experience to the federal workforce, without displacing change-makers within government. As a former telecommunications executive, I know how difficult and bureaucratic it can be for government to adapt to new changes in technology, productivity, and data management,” said Sen. Warner. “I’m pleased that before leaving office President Obama was able to enshrine into law a program that has already helped us in the effort to create an efficient, innovative, and accessible government. I look forward to seeing the lasting impact that the Presidential Innovation Fellows will have in developing a culture of innovation, accountability, and trust in the public sector.”
“I’m pleased that the Talent Act has been signed into law,” Sen. Lankford said. “This law will play a part in helping improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our federal workforce. It was a pleasure to work with Senator Warner and Senator Booker on this, and I appreciate the efforts of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who authored the companion bill in the House.”
“By signing this bipartisan bill into law, President Obama took an important step toward ensuring that the federal government continues to strengthen its collaborative efforts with innovators and entrepreneurs while improving efficiency and accountability,” said Sen. Booker. “The Presidential Innovation Fellows Program is a unique and effective way to engage civil servants and technologists to work together in public service for the good of the American people.”
The program is administered as a partnership between the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the General Services Administration (GSA). Fellows serve for between 6 and 24 months, during which they collaborate with each other and federal agency partners on high-profile initiatives aimed at saving lives, saving taxpayer money, fueling job creation, and building a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation within government. The program does not create any new funding obligations, and agencies requesting a fellow reimburse GSA for both direct and indirect costs incurred by the program.
In a letter sent last year to Congressional leadership, a wide range of innovators and technology leaders endorsed the legislation, including Ron Conway, Dan Doctoroff, Craig Newmark, Tim O’Reilly, Shervin Pishevar, and Ev Williams.
“By codifying the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program, the TALENT Act will ensure that this innovative program continues to provide fresh thinking and cutting-edge expertise to our 21st century federal government. We urge the Senate to take up and pass the legislation this work period,” they wrote.
Sen. Warner is a former business executive, governor of Virginia, and chairman of the Budget Committee’s bipartisan Government Performance Task Force from 2010-15. He has been a leader in advocating for the use of technology as a tool for supporting and enhancing public policy objectives, and bringing government into the 21st century. During his time in Congress, Sen. Warner has worked to promote the digital economy and an innovation agenda in the public sector, including expanding broadband access, promoting open data, modernizing government IT, and eliminating duplicative government reporting. His efforts have led to the enactment of two major measures: the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act—the 2014 bipartisan federal financial management and transparency legislation which has been described as the most significant open-government initiative since the Freedom of Information Act of 1966 and is the nation’s first open data law—and the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act (GPRA)— which requires federal agencies to report results quarterly on their highest priority programs, and to designate a performance improvement officer for each agency.
More details on the bill can be found here.