Fast Company

Government Tech Innovation Would Come to a Screeching Halt Under New Budget Proposals

Funding for projects like Data.gov and mobile apps for agencies is in danger of being almost fully slashed.

President Obama with Wife and Joe Biden and Wife

The Obama administration swept into Washington in 2008 with promises of both increased transparency and increased use of modern technologies, two things our political system desperatley needed. And while both promises somewhat fell victim to standard Washington infighting and inertia, some of the results were impressive, especially the high-profile Data.gov, which aggregates all government data sets, and USASpending.gov, where you can see how much money government contracts are worth.

But the budget process--currently in danger of shutting down the government entirely--is not being kind to the Government Electronic Fund (GEF), the umbrella government organization that funds these programs and more. Budgets proposed by the Republicans in the House and some Democrats in the Senate both cut the program's funding from $32 million to a mere $2 million, potentially destroying all the progress that the administration has made in transparency and technology.

"All of these programs cost more than $2 million," says Daniel Schuman, policy counsel at the pro-government transparency Sunlight Foundation. "It's really unclear at this point what would survive."

Besides Data.gov and USASpending.gov, the GEF funds some of the government's coolest and most innovative technology projects, including:

  • All government mobile applications, like that from Recalls.gov, which allows you to see if products have been recalled on your phone at the store.
  • Challenge.gov, which allows the government to fund the best projects citizens propose in different areas.
  • The IT Dashboard, which allows citizens to track government technology investments.
  • FedSpace.gov, a still-in-beta social network and wiki designed to create collaborative groups of employees from different government agencies.
  • App.gov/now A system that allows all government agencies to add wikis and blogs to their agency websites, free of charge.

And those are just the projects that have launched in some form. Many other projects--especially multiple new dashboards in the vein of the IT Dashboard--are also in some form of development.

These programs are now mostly living off leftover money from 2010, along with small amounts allocated in various short-term budget resolutions. It's just keep the lights on at these projects, they don't actually receive enough money to allow for major investments. So, what happens if no one intervenes and a budget passes with these cuts? Most likely, the websites have enough money to stay up, but with no new information added and no new innovation. It would signal the end for many important government technology projects.

Follow @fastcompany on Twitter.

[Image by George Trian]

Add New Comment

6 Comments

  • freakqnc

    Let's stop going after every war on the known universe and maybe we could dedicate our resources to more worthy projects.

  • John Sims

    Excuse me, but when did 'cool' become synonymous with 'necessary'? If our government can't bring itself to eliminate spending, even for items that are relatively small, even if they are cool, how will it ever bring itself to deal with much larger issues? When we have a fundamental spending crisis, we should be looking at all departments to share the pain. Yes, even the defense department.

  • David Kaiser, PhD

    This is really disappointing. This is the sort of investment that makes our lives better, and increases our faith in our government and society, and it's in danger of being allowed to wither on the vine. I plan to call my rep abut this.

    Dave Kaiser
    Time Management Coach to Authentic Leaders
    www.DarkMatterConsulting.com

  • Stuart Bogue

    Having seen the corporate tax dodges that have come to light over the last week,it seems silly to hear anything about what we can afford or can't. Infrastructure,be it physical or technical is what separated us from the rest of the world.It still is,but we are now heading in opposite directions from those who we once led.

  • Louann Oravec

    More reason to vote him out. If we took away, or reduced the paychecks of every millionaire politician, it would go far to balancing the budget.