The White House is pictured at night from the South Lawn looking north on April 29, 2010. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

The government has some new fellows.

On Thursday, the White House launched the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program, a six-month program to bring nonprofit, private-sector and academic talent to bear on five government projects.

The 18 fellows are charged with working on projects to help engineer greater government efficiency to benefit both the public and private sectors. Over 700 people applied for the 18 slots. Those selected were required to come to Washington, D.C. to work alongside federal employees. The fellows will also use crowdsourced data and proposed solutions from members of the general public.

The program was introduced during an event Thursday by, among others, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, the government’s Chief Information Officer Steven Van Roekel, the Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Jeff Zients, and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) John Berry.

“I think all of us here are present at the creation of something great,” said Zients during the event which was marked with moments of humor and general excitement.

The five projects include, “MyGov,” which calls on fellows to reimagine “the relationship between the federal government and its citizens through an online footprint” created for and by the public.

Then there’s “Open Data,” which would give citizens an opportunity to leverage big data to more efficiently find services, such as the best health-care provider or a college with the best value.

Then there’s “Blue Button,” a service currently available to military veterans, which allows patients to securely download their medical records as a text file.

“RFP-EZ” would result in the creation of a platform to make it easier for small businesses to navigate the federal government and for agencies to “quickly source low-cost, high-impact information technology solutions," according to a White House release.

Finally, there’s the “20 % initiative,” which aims to save the government 20 percent on its payments in support of foreign policy initiatives, development assistance, government operations and commercial activities. The 20 percent savings would come from ramping down, if not entirely doing away with, the government’s more expensive payment system of cash-disbursements. Instead of cash, the initiative would provide the government greater access to electronic payment methods.

The fellows represent a range of technology talent, including a user experience writer for TurboTax, two “serial entrepreneurs,” six entrepreneurs overall, a Web site designer, and an ”interaction” designer. However, of the 18 fellows two are women and none are African American — two populations traditionally under-represented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The event concluded with the 18 fellows taking the oath of office, administered by Berry.

The Presidential Innovation Fellows Program is separate from the older White House Fellows program, where individuals spend a year working for top-ranking government officials.

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