GREAT DOT-GOV WEB SITES

Data.gov sets tone for transparent government

Data.gov's modesty belies a fundamental shift in how government interacts with the Web

SITE: Data.Gov | USASpending.gov
AGENCY: Office of Management and Budget/General Services Administration
TECHNOLOGIES:
  • LAMP stack (Linux, Apache HTTP server, MySQL, and PHP).
  • Adobe Flex and Microsoft Silverlight visualization software.
  • The Drupal Content Management System.
  • Google Motion Chart (free, publicly available Web service).
  • Really Simple Syndication (RSS).
  • Google keyhole Markup Language (KML).

(Disclaimer: Use of any products does not imply the endorsement on the part of the agency).

To the casual viewer, the Office of Management and Budget's Data.gov might not be the most exciting virtual destination. The site's modesty however, belies a fundamental shift in how government interacts with the Web.


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"We need to rethink how we serve the American people. We have to think about it in terms of an ecosystem,” said federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra. “We can't think of people as subjects, but rather co-creators of our democratic system."

When Barack Obama was elected the 44th president, he called for more transparency with government agencies. Data.gov, put in place by the then newly-appointed Kundra, showed how agencies could put this transparency into practice. The site contains links to data feeds from a variety of government sources. The idea is that by agencies making feeds of their databases available, nongovernmental agencies and citizens can reuse them in their own applications and Web sites.

"We recognize that we don't have a monopoly on the best ideas, but we want to tap into the ingenuity of the American people," Kundra said.

The site now features more than 109,000 data feeds, available as Really Simple Syndication feeds, common-separated values or coordinated data that can be placed on maps. The Environmental Protection Agency has released toxicology reports. The Census Bureau has made available its housing population reports. And other individuals are already reusing these feeds. For instance, one individual used the U.S. flight data compiled by the Federal Aviation Administration for a Web service that can show the historic on-time percentage of specific airline routes.

Making data available is only one part of this revolution, however. Nongovernmental organizations and individuals could do only some of the work of making sense of the data; agencies themselves need to endeavor to make their data more understandable and interactive.

OMB also launched USASpending.gov, a Web-based compendium that presents where the government contractual dollars go to budget dollars in an easy-to-digest fashion. The site has already gotten 31 million visitors — a testament to the hunger people have for government data.

One of the site’s chief features is the IT Dashboard, which displays the government's entire IT portfolio. The page shows bar charts that compare how much each agency is spending on IT. It also includes a blog by Kundra discussing trends in this arena.

All this Web-based transparency portends change in how government operates. For instance, earlier this month the Veterans Affairs Department put a hold on 45 IT projects worth approximately $200 million, a move that was sparked in part by digging into the books in order to provide information for the IT Dashboard.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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