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Congressional Budget Would Defund Open Gov Data

March 24, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Of all the federal government’s investments, none have more potential to increase efficiency, save taxpayers money and stoke private-sector innovation than the E-Government Fund. The fund was created by Congress in 2002 to help bring agencies into the 21st century, both in how they use technology internally and how they disseminate government information to the public. Many of the initiatives begun by the fund are just now getting under way, but, unfortunately, when Congress passes their next budget, they may face termination.

As Daniel Schuman at the Sunlight Foundation reports, the FY 2011 continuing resolution that Democrats and Republicans are currently working on would nearly eliminate the fund:

Data.gov, USASpending.gov, and other Obama tech innovations face virtual extinction if the FY 2011 budget bill passed by the House of Representatives in February or considered by the Senate in March becomes law. The funding source for these e-government initiatives is the Electronic Government Fund, a $34 million bucket of money that would be drained to $2 million for the remainder of this fiscal year. The House and Senate’s inability to agree on long-term budget legislation has kept these initiatives alive at FY 2010 levels.

Some projects facing defunding include the recently-launched cloud computing initiative, the information repository data.gov, the government-spending reporting site USASpending.gov, citizen engagement tools, and online collaboration tools. Altogether, six project areas apparently will be affected by the cuts. Vivek Kundra, the Federal CIO who is responsible for allocating the Electronic Government Fund, will have to make some very difficult choices.

Eliminating USASpending.gov would mean that the public could no longer see which companies are receiving federal contracts and grants. Ending the cloud-computing initiative would mean that agencies will remain walled-off from each other, unable to share information in more efficient ways because they don’t share a common set of standards. Halting the development of Data.gov would mean that troves of high-value public data would remain off limits to entrepreneurs who are motivated to utilize it and create new business opportunities. The value of data openness in government cannot be overestimated, and for the cost of just one-third of one day of missile attacks in Libya, we can keep these initiatives alive and developing for another year. Unfortunately, the military-industrial-congressional-complex doesn’t seem to care.

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