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How the Government is Connecting with Citizens through Mobile Applications

How the Government is Connecting with Citizens through Mobile Applications

In this digital era, people expect to be able to obtain news and information in an instant; they expect real-time updates and the availability of accurate information to help plan their days. As our digital landscape continues to expand, it’s important for government to keep up with these changes and provide citizens with the tools they need to keep up with the activities of their government.

Embracing these technological advances benefits not only the average citizen, but also individuals employed by the government, as these tools empower public servants to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.

One way the government is working to improve the way they relay information to citizens is by developing mobile apps. With mobile apps, government agencies can relay important information such as emergency alerts or special news bulletins quickly and easily.

According to TechCrunch, people spend up to five hours a day using their mobile devices, and the time spent using apps has “increased 69 percent year-over-year.”[i] Statistics published by Business of Apps show that mobile app downloads increased to 197 billion worldwide in 2017 from 149 billion in 2016, and that the average time individuals spend on apps per day is about 2.3 hours[ii].

Obama’s Presidential Memorandum for a Digital Government

In 2012, then-President Barack Obama issued the Digital Government Plan, which stated that all federal agencies must develop at least two mobile apps. The plan also outlined specific strategy objectives for the mobile apps and specified that the new apps should:

        • Enable the American people and an increasingly mobile workforce to access high-quality digital government information and services anywhere, any time, on any device.
        • Ensure that as the government adjusts to this new digital world, [it] seize[s] the opportunity to procure and manage devices, applications, and data in smart, secure and affordable ways.
        • Unlock the power of government data to spur innovation across [the] nation and improve the quality of services for the American people.

(Source: Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People. 2012 Digital Government Strategy. 2012. Web. 31 Oct. 2017)

There are two types of mobile apps that government agencies are focused on developing – enterprise-focused apps and citizen-focused apps. They are defined as follows:

        • Enterprise focused app: for internal use to help government employees do their job more efficiently and effectively by giving them a central point to communicate and collaborate.
        • Citizen focused app: for citizens to be able to obtain real time information, public services and engagement.

To date, 77 federal agencies have developed at least one mobile app, and there are more than 330 government apps available for download that provide general information and news and provide access to services, including obtaining and processing government forms, crowdsourcing initiatives, health and safety information and educational services. Today, one-third of web traffic to government websites comes from mobile devices.[iii]

Although most agencies are developing their own mobile apps, only a few are being developed for agencies’ internal use. In fact, there are only four agencies that provide one or two apps for their employees, and NASA is the only agency that maintains multiple apps for their employees. NASA provides 20 different apps to their employees to help them with their jobs; perhaps unsurprisingly, NASA has developed the most apps of any U.S. government agency and was one of the first agencies to create a mobile app.

Currently Available Government Apps

There are a variety of apps available for both Android and iPhone that can help you locate health centers, find jobs, and get weather updates and emergency alerts. Some of those apps are:

Veterans Affairs: The VA has multiple apps for a variety of services, including apps that help Vets find local VAs, seek professional help or get information on how to claim benefits.

        • Caring 4Women Veterans – supports the specific health care needs of women veterans
        • PTSD Coach – provides education on PTSD, including where to find professional care and opportunities to find support

USA Jobs: Developed by the Office of Personnel Management, this app helps citizens find jobs in government.

MyTSA: With 100,000 + downloads, this app allows travelers to check wait times at security check in, travel times and airline delays at airports across the country.

American Red Cross: The American Red Cross provides multiple apps that citizens can download in order to receive emergency alerts and health information. With the number of weather related emergencies increasing over the last few years, these apps have helped save thousands of lives. Some of the Red Cross mobile apps include:

        • First Aid (downloads 500K+) – Instant access to information about handling common first aid emergencies
        • Emergency (downloads 50K+) – Monitor more than 35 different severe weather and emergency alerts
        • Tornado (downloads 500K+) – Tornado watch or warning alerts issued by NOAA
        • Hurricane (downloads 100K+) – Monitor hurricane conditions and track storms in real time
        • Earthquake (downloads 100K+) – Receive notice when an earthquake hits, learn where to find help and let others know you’re safe
        • Flood (downloads 10K+) – Prepare for flooding, evacuations and safe home return

Dolphin and Whale 911: Developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this app allows you to report stranded dolphins, whales, manatees and seals in the Southeastern U.S.

The federal government is not alone in using mobile apps to connect with citizens. State and local governments have also developed their own apps that residents can use to find information about transportation, health care, lotteries, tourist attractions, hunting & fishing licenses, vacation spots, driver’s handbooks and student tests for permit tests, as well as information on emergency alerts and traffic.

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) provides an online database where people can search for the more than 320 government-developed apps across the United States. Examples of apps include New York’s I love NY app which allows people to explore the different attractions across the state. Some of the largest tourist attractions in New York are the state parks; the Oh Ranger Park finder app allows people to find information, photos, maps and directions for more than 200 parks including the Adirondacks, which at 6.1 million acres is the largest park in the United States - bigger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Canyon and the Great Smokies national parks combined. So for those individuals interested in becoming part of the 46ers club (people who take on the adventure of hiking all of the Adirondacks’ 46 peaks) this app is perfect for finding information about and directions to each mountain.

The state of California, which has suffered a large number of wildfires over the last few months, developed the Cal Fire app to provide helpful alerts and updates on fires, as well as fire info and fire station locations, all of which can be critical when residents need to quickly evacuate from their homes.

Another state app that is geared towards younger users is Virginia’s Master of Math app, which helps students in grades third through eighth prepare for Virginia’s Standard of Learning exams with focus on math. There’s also the Pass the Past app, which focuses on history throughout the state, across the nation and around the world.

Challenges the Government Faces with Mobile Apps

Like with any product, there are challenges that must be faced when developing a mobile app. Developing and launching a successful app is no small feat: first you need to decide what type of app you want to develop, and then you need to decide what a person will be able to do with the app and how they will interact with it.


        • IT infrastructure – Most government agencies do not have up-to-date IT infrastructure
        • Lack of app developers – Agencies may not have employees with the know-how to develop an app, meaning they would have to engage an outside contractor
        • Cost – Developing an app can get quite expensive
        • Device compatibility – Making sure the app works properly and looks good on all devices
        • Easy-to-use interface – Making sure the app is simple to use
        • Testing – The agency needs to be able to test the app without actually launching it
        • Time frame – From development to launch, the process could take up to a year or more
        • Improving agency processes – Once improvements have been made, the agency can develop an enterprise-focused app

Examples of Bid Opportunities for Mobile Apps

        • Mobile Application Development issued by Cincinnati Public Schools
        • Mobile App Wayfinding issued by the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey – Bus Terminal
        • Mobile App – Health Research for Mood and PTSD issued by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs

With the development of mobile applications, not only can government provide more information to citizens, but people who use the apps can in turn do the same for government. Apps allow for quicker response from both citizens and government employees; they can help in emergency situations and allow citizens to gather information that otherwise may be harder to find if they had to look up an agency or search the web.

The digital era is here to stay and government agencies recognize the need to provide citizens and employees with instant access to information and real time updates. Most states and federal agencies have jumped on board; however in some cases there is still a long journey ahead to develop apps that assist internal employees of government agencies. Now that government has seen the impact mobile apps have on citizen engagement, to better serve the people of the United States it has become clear that this is the right path to stay on.

Danielle Calamaras |

[i] S. Perez. U.S. Consumers Now Spend 5 Hours per Day on Mobile Devices. 3 Mar. 2017. Web. 6 Dec. 2017

[ii] A. Dogtiev. App Download and Usage Statistics 2017. Business of Apps. 21 Nov. 2017 web. 6 Dec. 2017

[iii] S.Ganapati. IBM Center for The Business of Government. Using Mobile Apps in Government. 2016. Web. 31 Oct. 2017

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