When Open Government Closes

By: Ben Shore

So what happens when “open government” shuts down early? If the government has useful, open data to supply to the citizenry but no one can see it, is it really open?When open government closes

Due to last week’s 11th hour budget negotiations that narrowly avoided a government shutdown, drastic cuts were made to just about every aspect of government. From the $45 million in cuts to nuclear nonproliferation funds to $1 billion cut from HIV and disease-prevention, the operation of the U.S. government just got a lot leaner.

Also included in the latest budget to come from Congress are cuts that could bring about – as the Sunlight Foundation put it – a “technopocalypse.” That’s because the “electronic government fund” that helps to keep the government as open and accountable as possible is facing 75% cuts, reducing the relatively tiny budget from $34 million to $8 million. This means that the technology programs that have been instituted in recent years like Data.gov, USASpending.gov and the IT Dashboard among others are facing possible extinction.

This is happening while some programs in the “financial services and government sector” (in which the electronic government fund is housed) face just 10% in cuts. While negotiations remain ongoing – and the ultimate fate of Data.gov and the others aren’t yet fully known – “much is on the chopping block.”

Given that Reset San Francisco’s mission is to employ open government and Gov 2.0 tools to make government more efficient and to become more responsive to us, the possibility that valuable data will no longer be easily accessible is of great concern. And we’re not the only ones who understand this.

The Sunlight Foundation is promoting its “Save the Data” campaign by asking supporters of open government to sign their open letter to Congress and call their representatives among other actions in an attempt to save these beacons of transparency and accountability.

The electronic government fund and the programs that have come out of it are some of the best examples of utilizing Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 to foster an environment in which government operates openly and not behind iron curtains or closed doors. Without being able to access the data, we cannot be assured that those in Congress who voted to defund the programs will be acting in our best interests. In begs the question, what – and why – are they hiding?

According to OpenCongress, keeping these programs thriving for the next year would cost as much as one-third of one day’s worth of missile attacks in Libya. And missiles make a loud sound.

But unless we can keep open government truly open - how would we ever know that?

Paid for by Phil Ting for Assembly 2012. FPPC ID# 1343137