Open government dead - pass the beer nuts... | Opensource.com

Open government dead - pass the beer nuts...

Posted 21 Sep 2011 by 

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Open government dead - pass the beer nuts...
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The date on the tombstone - September 15. Open gov that was shouted from the rooftops on Obama’s first day died last week with barely a whisper - far from the headlines. The Senate approps subcommittee slashed $11 million from the House allocation, already $15 million under FY2010 funding. Transparency advocates like Sunlight are openly mourning the passing. But, the real question here is, does anybody really care?

Let’s be honest, programs like Data.gov and USASpending.gov haven’t exactly lived up to the promise on the side of the tin. It’s the same old problem - GIGO and over promise. As for the IT Dashboard, could this be a great excuse to let it die with some grace as Vivek exits stage left? Created as a wall of shame to embarrass CIOs and their "cartel" buddies out of D.C., the dashboard is, and always has been, a joke. Why did Vivek trumpet it in every media interview? I politely pointed out that the emperor had no clothes in my Senate testimony in March of last year. Now, I’m being more direct.

But, don’t take it from me. If you want proof of the inadequacy of the data, take a look at Deltek’s business plans. As open gov and its implementers - OMB and GSA - promised to give America free, ubiquitous access to government data, Deltek paid $86 million for Input and Federal Sources. Now why would the ERP firm buy companies whose business models lay right in the path of the government data juggernaut? At the same time, Big Apple giant Bloomberg - a man that knows a thing about government - has invested millions in launching a data dashboard service for government and industry. If the government data was any good, who’d pay for the private sector translation?

As the Hill now cuts funds for open gov, the real questions we should ask are what did we get for our money so far and what will we get from this year’s budget? Let’s not bleat about approps not funding the programs - let’s salute the Hill for common-sense thinking and not throwing more of our good money after bad. Isn’t it right that an administration focused on finding and prosecuting contractor failure should drive some accountability inside? Now, about them Redskins...

This article was originally posted at meritalk.com and is reposted with permission.
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10 Comments

jhibbets
Open Sourcerer

I think this is a great conversation starter. Is open government just federal funding as Alex Howard questions?

I don't think so. Open government is all of us. It's what we make of it. It's the change we want to happen and the pressure we apply to make it so.

Jason

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Alberto Cottica

I don't know enough of this, and I need to investigate. But I would be a little careful to use private investment in data as a surefire indicator that the gov data are worthless. It would not be exactly the first time that business badly misinvests – we've got ourself a steaming pile of subprime mortgages to remind usof that. Or it could be a case of capture: they invested because they knew they could lobby data.gov out of existence. You might want to use a different argument, though you may very well still be right.

Why is the IT dashboard a joke? I am not challenging you, it is a real question.

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steveokeeffe
Open Enthusiast

Thanks for your questions. Agree private sector's not always right. Try ground sourcing data from dashboard -- you'll quickly see the issues. My argument is not against the concept of open gov -- it's about the outcomes we are delivering under the current models.

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Alex Howard

If you aren't against the concept of open government, why did you write a garbage headlines about the "death of it," particularly on the same week that a global Open Government Partnership launched? The flippancy of "pass the beer nuts" is simply not in-line with the gravity of the subject.

As I've said elsewhere to Jason, I do not believe this post was worthy of getting more exposure on this forum.

For one, it resulted in an error-filled post by Alberto Cottica that misreported that Data.gov was going to be taken down, a mistake that he has neither apologized for nor fully corrected.

For another, it's just the next in a series of FUD-filled posts that seem designed to stir up controversy with the "is dead" trope as opposed to sober analysis of the issues. I'll continue to read the Sunlight Foundation's blog and try to unsubscribe from "your cup of IT," an email newsletter that I somehow was forced to receive after speaking at the recent GOSCON summit.

There are indeed data quality issues on Data.gov, on the IT Dashboard and on USAspending.gov, as the Sunlight Foundation and other journalists have highlighted.

The larger sweep of open government at the state, local and international level, however, would suggest that your analysis of open government as rendered "alive" or dead based upon funding for the OMB's eGov fund is part and parcel of a myopic inside-the-Beltway perspective that does little to encourage the open source community to care and much to cause the broader online audience to be more cynical.

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Alberto Cottica

Hey Alex,

Steve is obviously not responsible for any error of mine (and, for what it's worth, I did correct and apologize, though it took Govinthelab a few extra hours to catch up because of faulty RSS connectivity). Though I do not necessarily agree with him, I think he makes a legitimate point.

This is not to say your comment is wrong. On the contrary, I for one agree with your "bigger picture". It and Steve's post, read in the light of each other, might point to something like this: a serious downsizing in the US can help later-moving administrations to angle their open gov programs in a sustainable way. What do you think?

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Alex Howard

I think that your subsequent blog post and comments here, taken in concert with your error, suggests that you're not in possession of the facts and instead are introducing your own opinion based upon Mr. O'Keefe's assessments.

Take, for example, your statement in that blog post that "there is not enough readership for data driven journalism yet," There are millions and millions of page views going to news apps and data visualizations at the Guardian, New York Times, WSJ and Texas Tribune, among others.

With respect to open data and economic value, you might further research case studies in weather, GPS, transit and now health data.

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RemyD
Open Source Evangelist

OpenGovernment didn't die, it was born premature, and before the baby made it out of the NICU incubator, the plug was effectively pulled. The IT dashboard was not the end-all-be-all of OpenGov. It was an example of what could be done with open data to save real dollars (a.k.a the only likely 'quantifiable outcome' the 45% folks care about from slide #6). CodeForAmerica tells a great story about San Francisco saving over a million dollars using Open data (small potatoes at the federal level, but the process is what's important).I'd like to shout things like "the downstream markets for government data are immature, but growing" and "if it was funded for just a bit longer...", but I'm a bit too disenchanted make a real fuss. All we can do now as civic hackers is mirror what data is still available before it goes dark, keep our heads down, and continue building use-cases, while our country gets stuck on the wrong side of yet another digital divide.

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Alberto Cottica

I am European, not American, so I am seeing a different debate. But from my perspective Steve has a point here: I am hearing a lot of "we will create a thriving ecosystem of innovative services based on open data, and that will create growth and jobs". I have not done the math myself, but this seems like WAY overpromising: you can create some cool apps, maybe some specialized consultancy business, but if your business model is based on something that's free and open access you are not going to go far in terms of job creation.

Anyway that's just not what open data are for, IMHO. So, in Europe, I always recommend a low profile and emphasis on making the government more transparent and smarter.

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WiLL

There are other issues in the background that will prevent government data sharing regardless of whom (politically) swipes their signature on some well intentioned legislation. Does the Federal and state level government entities actually have the technical ability to share public information in a responsible and coherent format? Currently, most government agencies process and archive their data in archaic stovepipe systems; therefore, making it expensive or impossible to share relevant data in a timely manner.

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Jim Harper

I think people are searching around, trying to figure out what "open government" and "transparency" mean. My efforts to bring rigor and thus progress to this area include:

http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=13701

and

http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/congress-on-transparency-needs-improvement/

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Steve O'Keeffe is the founder of MeriTalk – www.meritalk.com – the government IT network. MeriTalk is an online community that hosts professional networking, thought leadership, and focused events to drive the government IT dialogue. A 20-year veteran of the government IT community, O'Keeffe has worked in government and industry. In addition to MeriTalk, he founded Telework Exchange, GovMark Council, and O’Keeffe & Company.

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