Another door closes on open government

After flourishing in the first half of the Obama administration, government transparency websites are losing some of their luster.

The latest victim is the state of California’s Reporting Transparency in Government site, which was taken off line Nov. 2 to “eliminate inefficiencies and unnecessary costs,” according to a note on the former site


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The website had been launched by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009 in an executive order requiring state agencies to post information related to accountability reports, audits, evaluations and inspections. 

But the site had not been updated since Schwarzenegger left office last January, Government Technology reported.

Gov. Jerry Brown shut down the site last month, passing an order requiring agencies to post contract information on the state’s e-procurement site and their respective individual websites.

“This is about ensuring that people are going to the primary resource, and we’re ensuring that that information remains available,” a spokesman for the governor’s office told Government Technology. “All of it continues to remain available through those channels.”

The move has not been universally popular. "I think the state is less transparent without the website," Phillip Ung, who lobbies for Common Cause, a consumer watchdog group, told Sacramento's KCRA-TV

The fate of California's site is not an isolated event. Federal transparency sites have also taken their hits this year.  

FedSpace, a knowledge-sharing network for federal employees, was terminated after Congress cut funding for the Electronic Government FundThe fund supports several government transparency sites, including Data.gov, Apps.gov, USASpending.Gov and Challenge.gov.

In a recent evaluation of four major transparency programs supported by the fund --- including Data.gov, FedSpace, Citizen Services Dashboard and FedRAMP — the Government Accountability Office said only Data.gov had made progress, reported Federal Computer Week, sister publication to GCN.

“(T)he projects could potentially lead to benefits, including cost savings and efficiency, customer service, transparency, and governmentwide collaboration and information sharing,” GAO said. 

“However, defining performance metrics and aligning these with project goals would help ensure that managers ... provide credible evidence of progress, which is particularly important in a resource-constrained environment.”

Federal officials, however, are fighting to maintain the programs. The federal government’s top open government sites, including Data.gov, Performance.gov and USASpending.gov, remain priorities of the E-Government Fund, according to David McClure, associate administrator at the General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.

“These types of programs have permanence,” McClure said, according to Federal Computer Week

But with the E-Government Fund facing ongoing cutbacks, money is scarce for about a dozen gov 2.0 initiatives that the fund currently supports, McClure said, including Challenge.gov, Apps.gov and the IT Dashboard.

“In the absence of funding being parked in the budget, we have to figure out how to keep these programs alive,” McClure said. 

About the Author

Paul McCloskey is editor-in-chief of GCN. Follow him on Twitter: @Paul_GCN.

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