Government 2.0

Federal spending data not yet machine readable

The federal government has a long way to go to develop and publish structured data on budgets and spending, according to a new report from the conservative Cato Institute.

“Structured data doesn’t really exist yet in the area of budgeting, appropriating, and spending,” Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the think tank, wrote in a recent blog entry. “The one bright spot is the president’s annual budget submission, which includes some information in a workable structure, but there is much room for improvement even there.”

Harper considered machine-discoverability and machine-readability to be key elements in transparency through the use of structured data.

The data also has to be authoritative and released in a consistent manner.

“If you want the kind of breakthrough in transparency for government data that the Web was for communications, you want the data structured right,” Harper wrote.

Based on his indicators of machine-readability and other elements, Harper gave federal agencies, bureaus and programs an “incomplete” grade on transparency.

“Believe it or not, there is no federal government 'organization chart' that is published in a way amenable to computer processing,” Harper wrote.

He gave the White House a “B+” grade for transparency of its annual budget submission to Congress. The next highest grade was a “C+” for the federal government overall for transparency of obligations.

Posted by Alice Lipowicz on Jan 03, 2012 at 10:02 AM0 comments

What PayPal and Regretsy can teach federal social media managers

Let PayPal be a lesson to you: When your agency messes up, fix it fast or face the wrath of social media denizens.

Here’s what happened: A website called, which exists primarily to make fun of bad handicrafts being sold through, decided to spread some holiday cheer by setting up a gift exchange program. Regretsy planned to buy gifts for about 200 children, paid for by small donations from its users.

PayPal shut the operation down, froze the funds and froze Regretsy owner April Winchell’s personal account as well, and her calls to customer service were met with condescension.  A snippet of Winchell’s transcript:

PAYPAL: Only a nonprofit can use the Donate button.

ME: That's false. It says right in the PDF of instructions for the Donate button that it can be used for "worthy causes."

PAYPAL: I haven't seen that PDF. And what you’re doing is not a worthy cause, it’s charity.

ME: What's the difference?

PAYPAL: You can use the donate button to raise money for a sick cat, but not poor people.

(This is a simplified version. Read Regretsy’s full story here – be aware there's an image containing a word that might not be safe for work – and an analysis on the blog “Geek Girl” here.)

That was on December 5. Within a day, PayPal issued a sheepish, although vague, apology and said that Regretsy’s funds have been released.

What happened in the hours between Regretsy’s posting the story and PayPal’s apology is instructive.

The story went viral. Almost immediately, PayPal’s Facebook page was flooded with angry user comments. Many people canceled their PayPal accounts, or at least threatened to. Twitter also exploded with fury, as did a number of blogs. We can assume PayPal got a lot of direct e-mail messages about it too, although there’s no way to be sure.

A sampling of the Facebook messages:

“ It’s absolutely appalling the crap you guys are pulling with Regretsy. Congratulations on successfully screwing families out of some much-needed donations because you’re greedy bastards who care more about red tape than people. I hope the Karma carousel comes full circle and hits each and every one of you with the force of a fully-loaded bus.”

“Your policies and behavior towards the Regretsy community in regards to the toys and money raised to help needy families this holiday are deplorable and reprehensible. To deny these families a small bit of cheer given them by other hard working families – while still making sure your own pockets are lined with the fees generated- has me DISGUSTED with this company. “

“Wow ... You guys got the smack down today; a well deserved 'wake the hell up' on your criminal policies and terrible support. You have been a pain the arse for years but this story from is unbelievable, you have outdone yourself this time.”

So, pay attention, social media users. Agencies also have customer service functions, and the lesson here is: Social media moves fast. If someone in your organization commits a faux pas of this sort, the best lesson you can draw here is don’t wait a day – or even half a day or several hours – to put things right and announce to the world that you have.

As a matter of policy, that means agency employees who speak for the agency on an official blog need a certain degree of free rein. You can't wait for a message to go through several layers of approval and revision. In the social media world, reputations can suffer a lot in a short time.

Posted by Michael Hardy on Dec 06, 2011 at 10:01 AM3 comments

E-mail: The next thing of the past?

Is email outdated?

At least one technology CEO in France thinks so, and is working to phase out employee email within in 18 monhs. 

Thierry Breton, who is the chief executive of Atos and former minister of finance in France, argued in a recent speech in the United Kingdom that 90 percent of staff time spent on emails is wasted. He wants his workers to speak to each other by phone or in person, or to use instant messaging and Facebook-type interfaces for online communication instead.

"It is not normal that some of our fellow employees spend hours in the evening dealing with their emails," Breton said, according to a Nov. 28 report in the Telegraph. "The deluge of information will be one of the most important problems a company will have to face. It is time to think differently."

Breton has already adopted the new method for himself: "If people want to talk to me, they can come and visit me, call or send me a text message," said the 56-year-old exec, according to a Nov. 30 article in the Daily Mail. "Emails cannot replace the spoken word."

Atos is one of the largest IT companies in the world, employing about 80,000 people.

Breton said the zero e-mail policy could be in place within 18 months.

What do you think? Is email on the way out?

Posted by Alice Lipowicz on Nov 30, 2011 at 10:02 AM20 comments

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