Saying No to Transparency Budget Cuts

Apr 13 11

Saying No to Transparency Budget Cuts

Paul Weinstein

In the past few years we have seen an explosion in our ability to access information at anytime and from just about anywhere. The Internet in general has a lot to do with this explosion. Being able to access the Internet from just about anywhere has simply reinforced its importance.

A secondary development that has impacted our relationship to information is known as “Web 2.0”. The central tenant of Web 2.0 is that websites not only facilitate in the sharing of information, but also the interoperability of information across the Internet.

To do this web developers separate out their concerns, the design of the website from its logical behavior, the information from the logic. This allows greater flexibility in developing the over all web-based application, applying computing resources specific to the concern in question, say storage of application data, as needed.

Given a proper interface a web developer can create a website “mashup” pulling data from numerous “outside” resources into a unique and useful application. One of earliest examples of this type of web application was a website called chicagocrime.org[1] that combined Google Maps with the Chicago Police “blotter” to provide a digital map in which a user could locate informtion about criminal activity at a given location in the city.

Recently the Obama Administration launched a number of government transparency initiatives designed to create data stores of federal information, akin to the local police blotter. By providing these data stores the administration’s goal was to increase public access to high value information in a format that could be easily incorporated into a larger web application.

Yet, some of the most important technology programs that keep these data stores available are in danger of being eliminated. Data.gov, USASpending.gov, the IT Dashboard and other federal data transparency and government accountability programs are facing a massive budget cut, from $34 million to $8 million or less.

Government information must be available online, in real time and in machine-readable formats. Doing so can increase involvement in our democracy as non-for-profit organizations, for-profit businesses and independent developers find new ways to enable us in accessing and sharing information.

It seems stupid to let these new initiatives go dark. After all, why should we be able to know what is going on in our neighborhood, but not in our country as a whole?

Take action now to Save the Data, http://sunlightfoundation.com/savethedata

[1] Chicagocrimes.org has since morphed into EveryBlock.com, a site focused on collecting all of the news and civic goings-on related to a specific city neighborhoods, As of March 2010 they cover 16 metropolitan cities in America and their neighborhoods, providing a “news feed” for a given city neighborhood or block.