Government 2.0

Sunlight Foundation taking heat for critique

One of the most forceful critiques delivered at the Gov 2.0 Summit last week was from Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, who ripped for alleged gross inaccuracies in its data.

Aggregated data on “is almost completely useless,” Miller said at the Sept. 7 conference sponsored by O’Reilly Media and UBM TechWeb. “We found over $1.3 trillion in broken reporting in 2009 alone, and that is more than half of the spending for that year.”

Now it is Sunlight’s turn to be in the spotlight. A prominent blogger says the foundation is counterproductive in demanding transparency from federal agencies and then, when data is made transparent, demanding that the data be nearly error-free.

“This is exactly how to prevent innovation in government. If you want change, you have to tolerate imperfection and risk,” Gunnar Hellekson, chief technology strategist for Red Hat’s public-sector group, wrote in his Sept. 9 blog entry.

“Sunlight has, I think, dangerously conflated transparency for reform,” Hellekson continued. “You get transparency first and that compels reform. That’s the whole point. You don’t ask for perfection right out of the gate; it’s unreasonable.”

Responding to Hellekson’s blog comment, Tom Lee, director of Sunlight Labs, which is affiliated with the Sunlight Foundation, wrote in a Sept. 10 blog entry that he agreed that there are risks to criticizing imperfect data, as the Sunlight Foundation did with its Clearspending project assessment of But he claims that’s gross inaccuracies demands a stern look.

“What about a data set where 70 percent of the totals are flawed, as is the case with the data Clearspending examined?” Lee wrote. “If we put that data online, we're going to lead people toward incorrect answers. Frankly, I'm worried about what happens when people start asking what concrete things the open government movement has accomplished. We need to make sure that the answer isn't ‘accidentally misleading a lot of people.’ "

Lee also noted that his staff has discussed the data problems with many competent executives and staff members at the Office of Management and Budget who appear committed to solutions. “But when we discussed getting the affected federal spending systems fixed, they started talking in terms of decades. That's code for 'never,'" he added.

The Sunlight Foundation and others involved in this debate are performing a public service for shining some light into this particular corner. The price, and the value, of open government has not yet been calculated, but this is a start.

So who’s right? Is it reasonable to expect that transparency ought to lead fairly quickly to accuracy? Who’s at fault for inaccuracies in federal data that apparently have existed for many years? How much would need to be spent to ensure accurate federal data?

We welcome your opinions on this.


Posted by Alice Lipowicz on Sep 13, 2010 at 7:25 PM0 comments

Web 2.0 report: Agencies not going far enough

To fully take advantage of Web 2.0 technologies, government agencies must rethink their traditional attitudes about owning information and allow for sharing, interaction and collaboration with the public, according to a new report from KPMG’s Government Advisory Practice.

The worldwide Gov 2.0 movement involves the use of technologies such as blogs, wikis and social media that allow people to interact and engage with policy makers. But fully using those new applications requires a reengineering of existing systems, according to Mark Forman, service practice leader, government IT advisory with KPMG in the United States, and an author of the report.

To date, many agencies are using the new tools, but few are taking full advantage of the capabilities available in Web 2.0, Forman said in an interview.

“We have seen a lot of activity that is informal and not core to the mission,” Forman said.

In a few cases, agencies have reengineered their systems, processes and workflow to fully allow for information sharing and collaboration. The most striking examples are NASA’s Nebula and the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Rapid Access Computing Environment program, he said.

The KPMG report, entitled “Dynamic Technologies for Smarter Government,” gives a road map to help government officials adapt Web 2.0 technologies to their needs.

The plan includes creating a collaborative operating model, rationalizing existing applications, arranging infrastructure to support Web 2.0 systems and leveraging and adapting culture for openness and empowerment.

Posted by Alice Lipowicz on Aug 02, 2010 at 7:25 PM0 comments

Federal Web sites chided for accessibility, usability issues

The accessibility and usability of some federal Web sites suffered a few pokes this week.

The newly-created Web site took a hit for its alleged lack of accessibility from the WebAxe blogger Web site.

“The site, which is U.S. government law with rules for Web accessibility, should itself be an example of an accessible web site,” Webaxe blog stated in a July 27 critique. “But instead, unfortunately, this was a failed attempt.” The blog entry included a list of 24 technical problems alleged to affect accessibility of the site.

Also in the news, Government Technology reported that the American Customer Satisfaction Index for federal Web sites has dropped. The ACSI measured satisfaction levels at 74.7 percent, down from 75.1 percent in the first quarter -- although still above the year-ago level of 73.6 percent.

The authors attributed the reduced scores to changes that agencies have been making on their Web sites to fulfill President Barack Obama's Open Government Initiative.

Federal agencies soon will have to undergo Justice Department evaluations to determine if they are complying with Section 508 disability requirements for accessible Web sites. The reviews will be the first since 2004. 

Posted by Alice Lipowicz on Jul 28, 2010 at 7:24 PM5 comments

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