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One agency’s investments in open source mean others benefit

One of the advantages to working across government is that we often have opportunities to share insights from other projects, repurpose code, and connect otherwise disjointed efforts. This happens in direct work with our partners, but also on our blog and in our GitHub repository. Our code, guides, and other work are all free for other government agencies and the public to use for their benefit (and we love when people do).

We don’t have good metrics for tracking the value of these activities, and the value isn’t reflected anywhere on our balance sheet. But we do know that it means agencies are able to deliver better services while saving taxpayer dollars. And that’s good for all of us.

So when new work comes our way, we look for solutions without too many preconceived ideas until we know what the problem we’re trying to solve is. We don’t benefit from creating work for the sake of work; we benefit when we can spend more time solving higher-order challenges.

Each year, the U.S. Forest Service processes more than 70,000 special use authorizations that result in more than $100 million dollars in revenue. These authorizations are issued for use of National Forest System lands, such as recreation events, outfitter and guiding, resorts, recreation residences, filming, and photography to just name a few. The U.S. Forest Service even issues more than 208,000 Christmas tree permits.

When the Forest Service contacted us last winter about making the permitting process easier and more straightforward, we jumped at the chance to help. We know that the Forest Service is not alone; just this past September, the Bureau of Land Management also embarked on an initiative to improve their permitting process. Neither project has finished yet, but we see a clear opportunity here: because we deliver products that are open source, and are transparent about our discovery activities, lessons we’ve learned and early prototype frameworks can be repurposed by other agencies.

When we want to know what our users want and what they think, we turn to user research. For the Forest Service, we’re using this research to guide a number of Agile Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) purchases, where vendors will take all the information we learned and build open source solutions that will work for each type of permit we choose to address. Because these solutions will be open source, they can be easily modified and enhanced to address even more permitting processes, even for other land management agencies. It’s not as simple as building a “one size fits all” e-permitting application, but sharing this work can help make any government permitting process easy and intuitive for anyone. For example, we’ve already awarded a task order for an application programming interface (API) for a legacy Forest Service system and are in the works of awarding one for the intake module.

By working in the open and across agencies, we can make sure that when government, and taxpayers, pay to develop a tool, it’s made available to everyone. Our path forward is to continue our work in the open. As we begin to develop these solutions with the vendors on the Agile BPA, we invite you to monitor our progress. As the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management continue to talk and share ideas on how to improve the permitting process, we’ll continue to advocate for more development in the open so that future solutions can be easily integrated, save time, and cost less. As our discovery work wraps up, we’ll look to share what we’ve learned through on our blog and elsewhere.

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