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Posted at 10:26 AM ET, 12/06/2011

Data.gov-In-a-Box and the struggle for open government


U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, speaks at a Bisnow panel discussion in Falls Church, VA. on June 2, 2011. (Jeffrey MacMillan - FOR WASHINGTON POST)

The U.S. government has, as part of it’s stated commitment to open government, released open-source code for portions of Data.gov, the U.S. data repository created as part of President Obama’s Open Government Initiative.

But, for an administration that has struggled to balance its aspirations with its actions regarding greater transparency, is the release the beginning of a deluge, or merely a trickle?

Programmers with the U.S. government have been working with programmers in India since August as a part of the U.S.-India strategic Dialogue to create Data.gov-in-a-Box, “an open source version of the United States’ Data.gov data portal and India’s [India.gov.in] document portal,” according to a message posted on the Data.gov Web site.

Chris Musialek, the General Services Administration’s software architect and Data.gov developer posted test code to the online code repository Github roughly five days ago. The code, according to a Monday post by Information Week’s J. Nicholas Hoover, “appears to be a database management system and Web app that will serve as key pieces of Data.gov-In-a-Box.”

In a blog post on the White House Web site, Federal Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra wrote:

The module -- paired with the software for the Open Government Platform website being developed by India -- will enable governments around the world to launch their own open government sites and increase transparency and accountability.  In the meantime, the U.S.-India team will continue to improve and integrate the modules of the Open Government Platform for the planned launch early next year.

The module release was not unexpected, since it was outlined in the U.S. National Action Plan as part of the United States’ participation in the Open Government Partnership. The plan calls for the government to, among other commitments, release Data.gov-in-a-Box and make it available “for implementation by countries globally, encouraging government around the world to stand up open data sites that promote transparency, improve citizen engagement, and engage application developers in continuously improving these efforts.”

The United States was one of eight founding members of the Open Government Partnership, which was launched in September. The Partnership includes 46 countries with the goal of improving government transparency worldwide. It is overseen by a steering committee of governments and civil society organizations, according to the Partnership’s Web site.

The release, on its face, is a step toward open government, but it comes as the Obama administration has been criticized for increased crackdowns on data leakers, such as alleged Wikileaker Bradley Manning, among other actions that have failed to align with the administration’s rhetoric. On Nov. 17, the Post’s Ed O’Keefe reported on the apparent irony of Vice President Biden attending a closed-door meeting of the Government Accountability and Transparency Board. While the minutes from the meeting are posted on the White House Web site, the optics were hard to ignore.

That’s not the first time the administration has been caught espousing and/or celebrating open government behind closed doors. O’Keefe highlighted at least four additional instances or notable practices on the part of the administration that appear to fly in the face of its calls for greater transparency, including the little done on the part of the administration to fight proposed cuts to the Electronic Government Fund’s budget.

The release of Data.gov-in-a-Box is a step, but in light of recent reports, the administration has a ways to go before its aspiring rhetoric for more transparent government fully meshes with the reality of its actions in the aggregate.

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By  |  10:26 AM ET, 12/06/2011

Categories:  Morning Read, Technology

 
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