We Need a Better .Gov(ernment)

It’s easy to get distracted by the political theater of the day and forget what government is supposed to be doing.  Government organizes people.  At it’s simplest, government organizes it’s citizens to fight an external enemy and create an internal peace.  Governments also tend to take money from one group of people and use it to create outcomes that the market won’t.  The actual application of government power is conducted through the use of information technology (IT).  Indeed, if one views IT as a continuum (language at the beginning, then writing, printing press, internet, etc), then IT is the foundation of government.  Of course it is: how else can one person communicate a message (information) to another?

If government and IT are so linked, why does the Federal Government act like a pre-internet organization?  Unlike nearly every business in America, they have not been thinking about how they can modify their products and services for the internet age.  GE has a comprehensive website that explains nearly every aspect of their business but the Federal Government doesn’t… and the federal government is the one that’s supposed to be transparent!

The fact that the Federal Government doesn’t have a serious web strategy is a joke that costs tax payers billions of dollars and allows for corruption to continue unnoticed.  Why is the census data locked into a government made PDF instead of analyzable through (and integrated with) third party products like Google Earth, Microsoft Excel or Wikipedia?  Why do thousands of office workers commute to Federal office buildings when they could work remotely?  Why can I do banking online but not my taxes?  Why can I get a college degree online but not a free, public high school one?

It’s really quite amazing how much the government could reduce the cost of governance, increase the quality of services and  engage with it’s citizens if it used just a little of the internet’s potential.  Our elected legislators can have an online home with a profile, a blog (if they want), video and transcripts of all their speeches, their legislative work, all their votes, a listing of all their donors, etc.  Our federal agencies can reduce their size and increase their transparency by using more open source products, more online collaborative workflow and a paperless office.  Our judiciary can post every case online: evidence, testimony, outcome, classifications.  All this data can be freed and integrated with third party applications that allow us all to manipulate it: finding hidden causations and correlations, exposing inefficiency, etc.

The time has come for the government to create a web strategy.  If they don’t, someone else will.  I know a guy who just bought the URL govenant.com and he’s convinced that there is money to be made in online governance tools.

According to Neilsen, 220 million Americans already have internet access.  Let’s stop pretending we can’t, or shouldn’t, change the way government interacts with it’s citizens by using the internet in a sensible way.  Obama has already started.

10 thoughts on “We Need a Better .Gov(ernment)”

  1. Obama, along with Tom Coburn (R-OK), actually did something a lot better than an iphone application: they sponsored a bill to create a google-like database of all federal spending, fully searchable and fully open to the public. McCain was one of 43 co-sponsors. http://obama.senate.gov/press/060908-senate_passes_c/

    I don’t know what the current status is; if anyone has any updates I would love to hear them.

  2. First off, nothing is better than an iPhone app.

    I’m familiar with the program.

    The government’s version is here: http://www.usaspending.gov/index.php

    The company who built the software has a better version at http://www.fedspending.org/.

    Federal spending data becomes more useful if you can mesh it with the legislative information that authorized it: congressional voting records, campaign donations, product ratings, news materials, legislative actions, etc.

    This federal database program cost the government less than $1m. They can do soooo much more.

    Cool Chart:

  3. re: walther:

    lexisnexis actually does keep records of all the court cases. and actually you can go onto most department of _____ and find their whole budget, including performance metrics, forecasting, MD&A. In fact you can even find Congressmens’ voting records. The U.S. government is in fact the most transparent of all governments in this world…it’s not perfect but this is not a perfect world.
    You also have to realize this is a GOVERNMENT not a corporation. Transparency for corporations is a vehicle to encourage investment, the government has taxes for that.

  4. I’m pretty sure I am qualified, just because you sit at home and read blogs all day doesn’t make you either my friend.

  5. Correction: our government is #18 according to transparency.org. Thank you Walther. However, I think that if you factor in the importance of opaqueness required of a military titan like America, it tries its best to be transparent.
    I would imagine there is a high correlation between transparency and military budget.

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