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CAGW issues report questioning government mobile apps

A duplicative mobile app?

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, on Sept. 25 released an issue brief on federally financed and developed mobile apps, which CAGW believes have exploded in their scope and proliferation. Each of the apps is available to the public free of charge, but the costs to taxpayers to pay developers and run the Websites that host each app are largely unknown, said CAGW in a news release it issued on Sept. 25.

In addition, many of the apps being created by the federal government have counterparts in the private sector or are simply frivolous. For example, My-Food-a-Pedia, a mobile Website app developed by the Department of Agriculture, serves the same function as the Food Plan function of Fitbit, one of several mobile apps available for mobile nutrition guidance.

The Social Security Administration had an app, Baby Name Playroom, to help parents choose baby names, a completely unnecessary service. At least that app has been removed from the USA.gov Website, noted CAGW.

A February 24, 2011 article in Mashable.com examined the private sector costs for mobile app development. Aaron Maxwell, founder of mobile Web design agency Mobile Web Up, estimated that a company can expect to spend at least $30,000 in order to design, implement and deploy a brand-quality iPhone app. Since the USA.gov Website currently has 107 functioning apps, the federal government may have already spent $3 million on developing mobile apps, CAGW calculated. “However, due to a lack of transparency, that figure is only an estimate, and given the federal government’s longstanding propensity to perform tasks less efficiently and at higher cost than similar private sector efforts, $3 million is likely a conservative figure,” the group added.

As the report details, there are security concerns with many government-developed apps in addition to questions about their cost. For example, a successful Department of Veterans Affairs app did not have appropriate password protections to keep private veterans’ personal information.

“As government agencies move forward with mobile development, there should be more focus on transitioning to the mobile web while providing increased cost transparency,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz. “This report explains how the federal government has, as usual, pressed forward with an expensive operation for which there was little demand and that overlaps with itself, and how the government can go about improving the situation. Taxpayers should not have to worry about their hard-earned money being wasted on unnecessary or duplicative mobile apps.”

Citizens Against Government Waste is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, mismanagement and abuse in government.