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White House cracks whip on move to mobile

President Obama tells federal agencies to get a move on to keep pace with a citizenry that more and more gets things done via smartphone.

Barack Obama might be the head of state, but smartphones and tablets increasingly rule the world -- and the White House says the feds need to embrace that reality.

The president yesterday issued a directive to make key government services accessible through the mobile devices toted by much of the citizenry, and charged the federal CIO with developing a plan for a "21st century digital government."

"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," Obama wrote in the memorandum (PDF). "In addition, at a time when Americans increasingly pay bills and buy tickets on mobile devices, Government services often are not optimized for smartphones or tablets, assuming the services are even available online."

About 46 percent of American adults own a smartphone and 19 percent own a tablet, according to the Pew Research Center. And those numbers are heading upward.

At the core of the new federal strategy is openness: open data will be the default for government IT systems, and Web APIs are to be embraced.

Federal agencies are being directed over the next 12 months to open up their data to the public and to set up developer pages to give external developers tools to build new services. At the same time, the Data.gov site is to be transformed into a data and API catalog that can pull directly from agency Web sites in real time.

"Treating the government as an open platform in this way encourages innovation," Steven VanRoekel, the CIO of the federal government, wrote on the Office of Management and Budget blog. "Just look at how the government's release of GPS and weather data fueled billion dollar industries. It also makes government more efficient and able to adapt to inevitable changes in technology."