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.
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[Image by George Trian]