This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.
Steve Bratt is the CEO of the World Wide Web Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web. The mission of the organization is to empower people through transformative programs that leverage the web as a medium for positive change.
In his inaugural speech, President Barack Obama pledged support for open government initiatives, including the creation of websites that provide access to valuable but not sensitive government data. This initiative promoted transparency, accountability, collaboration and citizen participation by putting government data online. Data.gov was launched in May 2009 as a result, and this incredible site provides nearly 300,000 data sets and almost 1,000 applications developed by government and private enterprise. Government has embraced the web as a platform to provide data to the public and to other entities inside and outside the government sector. Open Government Data (OGD), or government data that can be accessed online and used by others, is a pioneer idea that empowers people and enhances government accountability.
We recently learned that Data.gov and similar websites will receive significantly decreased funding from the U.S. government. Without continued financial support, some government websites will go dark. That’s unfortunate, considering the two years of work spent to create and launch them. The latest offering from the House Appropriations Committee included only $8 million for the Office of Management and Budget’s open government program, which funds the development and maintenance of sites such as data.gov. This offering is significantly less than the requested $35 million.
If we fail to fund open government projects, not only does the United States lose, but so does the rest of the world, which looks to the United States and United Kingdom as the leaders in modern government transparency initiatives. To date, we have witnessed an impressive adoption of open government initiatives globally. Some 15 nations plan to model their open government platforms using data.gov as an example.
Recently, OGD feasibility assessments conducted by my organization in Chile and Ghana have revealed the need and desire to establish open government initiatives in those countries. Improving government transparency and accountability in these markets enhances public confidence in systems of government and attracts foreign investment in local businesses. In addition, innovative commercial opportunities are made possible based on the availability typically-hidden government data. And for all who are interested in cost-effective governance (who isn’t?), OGD initiatives have produced savings on U.S. government expenditures. According to U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, the IT dashboard provides an estimated $3 billion in savings per year to the American taxpayer. Such projects also help government agencies identify water quality changes, bad roads and areas with high crime rates.
Let’s not lose the significant benefit of open government data work after so much effort, time and money has gone into building these resources that are already proving to more than pay for themselves. I urge you to contact your local representatives, and ask them to fully fund U.S. open government initiatives or sign the Sunlight Foundation’s “Save the Data” petition that is urging congressional representatives protect funding for open government projects.
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