Open Code Governance in Action: Data.Gov
Government has a long history of hiding its problems. It has done so through policy. For instance, the state secrets privilege owes its beginnings to a cover-up of agency mismanagement. It has done so with technology. Closed code systems prevent the public from identifying automated systems’ policy inaccuracies and security problems. E-voting machines and public benefits systems exemplify the kind of black boxes that can wreak havoc on government decision-making.
The Administration has made clear its interest in shining the light on the Executive Branch’s policymaking, problems and all. Last week, federal CIO Vivek Kundra launched Data.gov, the first-ever catalog of raw federal data for the public’s machines to read, analyze, and mash up. The site now has 47 feeds. Most concern what the Executive Branch knows about the weather and natural resources, including mineral resources and migratory birds. For instance, one involves a database of Tornado, Large Hail, and Damaging Wind Reports, 1950-2006. White House budget director Peter Orszag says that the goal is to have a “one-stop shop for free access to data generated across all federal agencies.” He explained that the site will “open up the workings of government by making economic, health care, environmental, and other government information available on a single website, allowing the public to access raw data and transform it in innovative ways.”
Like all beta projects, this one has begun with baby steps. Beyond weather and soil, one hopes that Data.gov will include data sets and statistics on the OMB’s budget, EAC-funded studies on voting machines, and FTC’s consumer research. It also would be particularly intriguing to broaden its reach beyond the Executive Branch to include data from the Legislature and Judiciary. But no matter, this project is exciting both for its future utility and its expressive value. Companies and researchers can make great use of the data to find new ways to solve difficult problems. The Administration is also sending a powerful message here. As Saul Hansell from The New York Times explains, the Administration is putting its imprimatur on an effort to “unlock government information.” This is Open Government indeed.