AUSTIN, Texas – If Todd Park can find entrepreneurs in federal agencies and unleash a flood of health data, leaders in big hospitals and pharma companies can also use startup techniques to change business as usual.

Park says that with his new promotion, he will seek out entrepreneurs in all governmental agencies to expand the success Health and Human Services has had with open data initiatives.

“This has been the most entrepreneurial experience of my life over the last two years,” he said. “HHS has allowed me to keep doing what I do: apply lean startup principles in the public sector.”

Until last Friday, Park was the chief technology officer of HHS. He starts his new job as chief technology officer of the United States in a week’s time. His first speaking engagement since the announcement was Saturday at SXSWi. He spoke with Mason Phillips, director of digital strategy at the White House.

Park said he has found the most success by first finding people in HSS who had ideas on how to do things better and recruit them into a team.

“I told them my job was to provide the air cover for you to do what you have always wanted to do,” he said. “Then we’ll use Silicon speed and style to get things done.”

He and Phillips talked about three lean, startup-style projects he has launched in the U.S. government.

“Not only is it possible, it actually turns out to be the simply most effective way to execute a change in the government,” Park said.

Park said he has noticed over the years that entrepreneurs who are mission driven last longer and do more than people more interested in money.
“Some people are fundamentally driven by incredible excitement about how what they are building could help people – this gives them much more endurance then if you were just in it for the stock options or the TechCrunch write up,” he said. “In the federal government, there are many entrepreneurs who are mission driven.”

Park’s open data initiative has had the most visible results. There have been two health datapalooza events so far, and the next one is scheduled for June. Companies can apply to present at the event; the deadline for submissions is March 30.

“We had data set owners at HHS who said, ‘I don’t know about letting control of my data – what are the innovators going to do?’” he said. “When they saw that innovators were advancing the message of improving health, that got stakeholders more interested in using the data.”

Park said that a central part of his success at HSS was his observation of [Sun co-founder] Bill Joy’s law: “No matter who you are, most of the smart people work for someone else.”

He said the government’s role is to make the data freely and easily available to entrepreneurs in the private sector who were the best people to create new products and services.

“This is a self-propelled ecosystem that uses data to improve health and create jobs,” he said. “This health-related data from the government fuels a rapidly growing array of innovative products and services that help consumers. It’s a beautifully chaotic system.”

Park said he was talking to a group of hospital CEOs recently and an audience member got up to the microphone and wanted to know why he hadn’t heard about this open data initiative sooner.
“If I told you two years ago that HHS was going to do this, would you have believed me?” he replied. “I didn’t know this was going to happen two years ago, it was a journey, an iterative one.”

Park ended his talk with a call for members of the audience to sign up for this work to serve the American people and increase the ROI of taxpayer dollars. He encouraged people to send him ideas and resumes via e-mail.

“I like to respond to everybody, and I say that if you don’t hear from me after 72 hours, reply with ‘you idiot’ in the subject line,” he said. “Then I can sort my e-mail by subject and see those ideas first.”

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