Booting up Startup.gov: Mint.com meets healthcare.gov at the new CFPB

There’s a new startup in Washington. It’s not part of the Gov 2.0 Startup Lab at GWU, the contracting community or a spinoff from AOL. It’s not a scrappy venture within Big Window Labs, which Clay Johnson just founded, or Code for America, which provides the geektastic source code graphic that adorns this post.

It’s the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB. And they’re hiring, as Merici Vinton highlighted again today:

Want to work for a federal agency that’s also a startup? Hiring coders -python, ruby, mobile etc http://bit.ly/bV1CPx #gov20 /pos closes Friless than a minute ago via web

What’s the vision for the new agency? Vinton put it in an email, “think mint.com meets healthcare.gov with a really fun team and an agency with a wonderful mission.”

To get there, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau needs to track down some smart web and mobile developers, and soon. According to Vinton:

We are looking for individuals who love creating new and interesting tools online and are passionate about creating an engaging experience for web visitors.  We need people who get a kick out of taking really complex financial consumer products, terms and issues and turning them into a really cool online tool that makes the data/info make sense. The downside for a talented, high demand developer is that there isn’t an IPO or acquisition at the end of this rainbow. The upside is– creating this agency and getting it right from day one is important work. The next two years at this agency will probably give the person who takes this job an amazing future full of IPOs and acquisitions. It’s a launchpad for someone who wants to be remarkable.

Why is the hiring announcement significant? Go back to Elizabeth Warren’s plans to leverage technology to stand up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as defined by her speech at the University of California at Berkeley:

Technology can be used to help the agency become an effective, high-performance institution that is able to update information, spot trends, and deliver government services twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week,” said Warren y. “If we set it up right from the beginning, the agency can collect and analyze data faster and get on top of problems as they occur, not years later. Think about how much sooner attention could have turned to foreclosure documentation (robo-signers and fake notaries) if, back in 2007 and 2008, the consumer agency had been in place to gather information and to act before the problem became a national scandal.

If the CFPB is truly going to be a “21st century regulator,” it will need the tools and the people to match the title. The first “Startup.gov” in decades has its sights on using crowdsourcing, big data and mobile technology to detect and address consumer fraud before it causes the next great financial crisis.

That’s a tall order.

If Uncle Sam can inspire a more civic coders to hack smarter government from the inside, maybe they’ll have a shot.

UPDATE: On February 3rd, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau launched ConsumerFinance.gov. The bureau sent out a new call for developers on February 7th, with vacancies open through midnight. They’re looking for coders who can “write code from scratch for a highly-trafficked web site, using either an open source MVC development framework such as Django or Ruby on Rails; or an open source Javascript framework such as jQuery or Prototype” and who can work with database and system admins on tools to handle “big data,” including MySQL, Hadoop, CouchDB or MongoDB.

About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.

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