Washington Post columnist Vivek Wadwa sparked a firestorm on GovLoop, the social network for the government community, last week when he predicted “the coming death of open government” following Obama’s decision to slash e-government funding and Vivek Kundra’s announcement that he’ll be stepping down as U.S. Chief Information Officer.
While many members seemed hopeful that open government could endure, others voiced skepticism about the initiative’s future -- mostly because they weren’t sure it was succeeding even with an ample budget and Kundra at the helm.
“Doesn’t something dying imply life?” quipped Rex Castle, the human resources and interactive content director for a technology company. “I’m not saying there has not been progress, but from sort of the outside looking in, I still struggle to find information in a usable form.”
Department of Defense employee David Dejewski added he didn’t think open government had yet made it to some agencies. In his 20 years working for government, “I have seen some sparks and good initiatives get started, but I’ve not seen anything take root,” he said. “It’ll take a few retirements, some interactive energy, and a clear display of value to make this work.”
One argument is that without a high-profile champion to keep the momentum going, enthusiasm for the initiative will wane.
“Vivek Kundra leaving the White House rings one more bell that the Open Government soiree is over. And like all poorly planned parties, it should be,” Ph.D. candidate Angela Newell said.
But most GovLoop members were more optimistic.
“The open government movement is very much like an organism,” said Dustin Haisler, the director of government innovation for Spigit. “It will change and adapt to new challenges and continue to progress forward as a collective movement for the greater good.”
Haisler and others believe open government is bigger than any one person.
“Kundra’s influence and passion was significant, but it will not be the end for open government,” said CDC employee Adam Arthur. “Open government is more of a principle now -- a way to do business between citizens and their representatives. I believe the people have had a real taste of transparency, and they won’t settle for anything less at this point.”
One commenter pointed out that ultimately, the fate of initiatives like this one depends on buy-in from managers. “Open gov is essentially about changing the way government works, and this change is most profound at the cultural level,” analyst Daniel Honker said. “All the policy changes and new tech deployments don’t mean a thing if the managers aren’t behind them.”
More important than the managers may be those who work for them.
“I think that those of us who worked in the public sector have always kept initiatives going long after … elected officials have moved on,” said Terri Jones, a former Maine and Arizona state employee. “So, although I think Vivek’s departure is a blow, it is in our hands to learn from that moment and keep it going.”
If this week’s discussion is any indication, government employees are confident they’re up to the task.