Can the U.S. 'win the future' without open data?


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Winning the Future through Open Innovation,” is a progress report recently released by Aneesh Chopra, US Chief Technology Officer, to the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) on the Administration’s Open Government Initiative.The report highlights a number of programs at different agencies that represent a wide variety of open innovation techniques, from opening datasets and APIs to creating incentives for competition or testing and certifying open standards.

Less than a week after the report's release, the Administration launched the Campaign to Cut Waste through the newly-formed Government Accountability and Transparency Board (GATB), an 11-member group which will review and cut about 50% of Federal websites to reduce spending and prevent duplication of efforts.

Ironically, Data.gov, which is lauded in Chopra’s memo to the NSTC as a “signature initiative in the endeavor” to democratize data lost 75% of its operating budget (the Electronic Government Fund) during the budget compromise in April, prompting the Sunlight Foundation to launch a “Save the Data” campaign. To be clear, the E-government Fund was cut by Congress, not the GATB, which seems at odds with the federal government’s goals of improving accountability, transparency, and efficiency.

The very amusing video from White House about the Campaign to Cut Waste demonstrates clearly that the Administration understands the legal and administrative barriers to innovation and the ways that technology can improve government efficiency (and who doesn’t enjoy seeing the Federal Register used as a doorstop?). The CTO’s memo takes it a step further by highlighting programs that have embraced technology and collaboration to produce award-winning websites that allow citizens to compare insurance options (Healthcare.gov) and search through patent data for free (US Patent & Trademark Office Data Product Catalog,) instead of paying the previously required $43,000 per year subscription.

Like it or not, new programs (and new websites) cost money. But, as proven by many of the examples in the memo, programs that embrace collaborative innovation and technology can save money in the long term. For example, the NASA Tournament Lab enables 20,000 software developers to compete with each other to develop the best computer code for NASA systems. NASA has concluded several challenges so far, exceeding researcher expectations at a fraction of the cost of procuring software in a traditional manner. It also has given NASA many different software options to choose from and test, instead of selecting and procuring one software product at a time which may or may not fill the agency’s needs.

As the GATB and Congress rightfully consider ways to reduce spending and eliminate waste, it is more important than ever for policy makers to better articulate how and why open, collaborative innovation is essential for job and economic growth and for enabling the government to more efficiently and effectively serve its citizens. The CTO’s memo provides concrete examples of how new models and methods of collaboration are transforming government for the better, but policy guidance from strong leadership will be needed to implement these changes across agencies and departments to achieve the overarching goals of improving efficiency and transparency. Cutting the Desert Tortoise or Fiddlin' Foresters websites may indeed help us save money, but restoring the Electronic Government Fund during the next budget cycle and investing in collaborative, innovative projects between the public and private sectors is a better way to “Win the Future.”

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1 Comment

jhibbets's picture

The video is hilarious! Obama said that he'll put the Fiddlin' Foresters on his iPod, but he doesn't want the US Gov to pay for their website.

It seems like the open approach for the cutting wasteful will resonate with tax payers, but I'm more interseted in investing in projects that enable collaborative and innovation.

Jason