The Washington Semester Program is pleased to welcome the General Services Administration’s Mobile Program Management Office back as a host employer. As part of the 2012 Washington Semester internship the GSA Mobile Program Management Offices hosted Virginia Tech junior Justin Goldberger.

GSA Provides Government-Public Interaction Expertise
Created in 1950, General Services Administration (GSA) provides services to other federal agencies, from building design to car rentals, in order to make government purchasing more efficient.

Jacob Parcell is Manager, Mobile Programs, with the Mobile Program Management Office within the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies (OCSIT) at the General Services Administration (GSA), an independent agency in Washington, D.C.  GSA also provides website and social media support services to federal agencies through the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.

His day-to-day work is focused on connecting citizens with government and is a dedicated public servant with nine years of federal experience. Originally from Richmond, Va., Jacob is a Ph.D. candidate at Virginia Tech’s Center for Public Administration and Policy in Old Town Alexandria.

The Mobile Program Management Office
By virtue of its role as a service procurer, the agency also has a great wealth of knowledge about customer service and it was this aspect of GSA’s mission that gave rise to the creation of the Mobile Program Management office within OCSIT in October 2010.

The office focuses on “helping organizations think about how they interact with the public” using mobile technology, Parcell said. Mobile technology is a relatively new area for GSA by comparison to other programs it administers to support agency-public interaction, with the key questions being, How do you manage that interaction? How do you provide a good customer experience?

For example, Parcell began working for the agency at its contact center, where he conducted quality assurance audits on public phone, email, and web chat interactions to make sure citizens were receiving excellent customer service with their contact center before joining the Mobile Program Management Office.

“Back in October 2010, when the iPhone got big, they decided we should figure out what this app and mobile thing is,” said Parcell.  “So what we do, and what I specifically do, is evangelize the case for mobile capabilities to agencies across the federal government.”

“How do we do that?  We get agencies together talking and sharing practices,” he said, which is essential for supporting agencies in this rapidly changing area of technology. “The research we’ve done has found that industry is still hedging its bets around mobile.”

Although the mobile technology industry is deploying many resources such as developing a mobile web and developing apps, Parcell said, there is general uncertainty across the industry about what works. As a result, about “every six months, we see a change in the field. There’s always a new fad.”

Another challenge that the Mobile Program Management Office faces in implementing its projects is timing. “Sometimes what seems like the right option may become outdated by the time you get it through the government process.”

Parcell regularly fields requests from federal agency representatives about mobile technology questions and he’s also developed a federal community of practice so that agencies can compare notes with one another. When an inquiry comes in, he captures the question and answer on the Mobile Program Management Office’s wiki so that the information also can benefit other agencies.

The office also is involved in several high-level technology programs at the federal level. “When the President comes into office, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) implements a lot of White House initiatives,” said Parcell. “The Federal Chief Information Officer (FCIO), who is appointed by the President, sets Information Technology (IT) policy and my office implements some of these policies. This year we worked on the Digital Government Strategy, which required agencies to meet over 25 IT milestones.” OCSIT was tasked in 2012 with implementing a number of these milestones.

Nature of Internship Work
Each intern is assigned a project for the summer and they are involved in many other initiatives as well. Given the ongoing nature of the FCIO’s digital policy initiatives, summer 2013 interns will be working with Parcell and his colleagues to continue the work of the Digital Government Strategy. “The final milestones will launch on May 23rd, so we will officially be in phase two May 24th and we will be looking to build on the work we’ve done.”

Being able to stay on task in a busy work environment is important, Parcell said, and as a result the office prefers hiring interns with some work experience, even if it’s retail or fast food or a work-study job.

Interns help maintain the office’s social media channels (twitter, blog, wiki). This can include everything from Internet searches to interviewing staff at various federal agencies about mobile technology issues in order collect this information on the wiki, so good research and writing skills are essential, Parcell noted.  Washington Semester interns will assist with planning and implementing educational programs about mobile technology for agencies across the federal government. This year, Washington Semester interns also will assist with managing a new initiative, called the Open Opportunities program, that’s focused on mini-projects within GSA that solicit expertise from other federal agencies.

In addition to keeping abreast of the latest mobile technology trends, the benefits of working with the Mobile Program Management Office include being able to see how government works on a day-to-day basis. “You’ll get the see the size and the complexity of government,” said Parcell. “Once you’ve worked with us, you’ll understand how the White House operates and you’ll get to see policymaking and implementation.” Students also have the opportunity to attend executive meetings and to interact with other student interns at GSA in the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies. There are also many networking opportunities, within GSA and with other agencies.

The Mobile Program Management Office had a positive experience working with Washington Semester 2012 intern Justin Goldberger last year on the FCIO initiative and his other projects, Parcell said. Goldberger was an undergraduate in political science with a minor in sociology and a particular interest in policymaking. He noted that Goldberger did well because he was enthusiastic, followed through on project tasks, and asked good questions. “Justin had all the traits we look for—hard-working, creative, curious and always going the extra mile on a task.”  In recognition of his hard work, Justin was able to accompany a senior GSA official to a meeting on the White House grounds at the end of the summer.

Goldberger recently reflected on his experience at GSA. “The GSA internship gave me an unparalleled look into the workings of one individual agency within Washington’s network of organizations” and it also provided a ‘front seat’ as digital government policy was being made, he said. “Working for Jacob at GSA as part of the Washington Semester program gave me experiences that textbooks and academia fail to teach students. Although at first I was not too familiar with the technical aspects of the technology, Jacob was a great teacher and I learned quickly despite lacking the IT background.”

“Overall, my experience with Jacob and GSA was a great introduction to policymaking and the complicated process that ensues between the formation of policy and the evolution of the policy when implementation finally occurs,” Goldberger said. “I highly recommend this internship to anyone interested in policy design and implementation or anyone else who is interested in learning the hierarchy of governmental agencies in Washington.”

The Mobile Program Management Office is looking forward to continuing its participation as a Washington Semester employer, Parcell said. “If you are REALLY looking to learn about government, you can’t go wrong with us. Come with your sleeves rolled up and ready to make an impact!”