Everything began with some rumours regarding the end of the Statistical Abstracts section on the US Census Bureau. One might have thought it was the beginning a natural evolution, leading the way the information repository Data.gov , USASpending.gov, Apps.gov/now, the citizen engament tools and online collaboration tools.It is about other, newer and especially dedicated websites, such as also the recently launched cloud-computing initiative and other hi-tech innovations introduced by Obama.
Instead, they were the first steps for the Congress for shutting down transparency sites in the next few months. The reason? Budget cuts. The Electronic Government Fund in fact, which funds the aforementioned initiatives, is planned to be reduced from $34 to $2 million for the remainder of the fiscal year.
As it seems, it costs $4 million to keep operating USASpending only for one year and still the website, in spite of such and expense, since the launch never got off the ground, because the enormous amount of data contains is…old. Data.gov, according to IT Dashboard cost $8.3 million, and the cloud computing initiative $1.4 million; and USASpending.gov $13.3 million. In spite government might be paying too much for technology and there are some concerns about the quality of the data, there is no doubt about the fact that the returns of such applications in terms of transparency is priceless.
Six project areas will be affected by the cuts and Federal News Radio infers that once definitely approved the cuts, USASpending and Apps.gov will be able to remain online only until the 30th of July and will be later obscured.
In fact, it has to be precized that all this scenario will become truly real only when both the House of Representatives and the Senate will have agreed on the FY2011 budget bill. In the past year, transparency initiatives had been kept alive thanks to the House and the Senate`s inability to find an agreement. This time; the House passed the budget cuts in February and if the Senate makes the same in March; the proposal will later become law.
There is now reason for alarm since each House effectively considered the possibility of providing only $2 to the Electronic Government Fund although the six continuing resolution have so far sustained the current funding levels on a pro-rated basis. The Administration opposes to “deep cuts that will undermine our ability to out-educate, out-build and out-innovate the rest of the world. [...]” and confirms its will to make Government more and more open and accountable. In addition, if the President is presented the text passed through the Senate without amendements, he will veto the bill.
Following such considerations, on one hand, the situation might be not so serious as described by the medias. On the other, there is the need to reduce the budget together with the still unstable economic situation due to the recent crisis which might make the threaten more real.
Parlorama signed the Open Letter to the Congress for protecting the Electroninc Government Funds . If you want to help saving US government accountability and transparency, sign here.
 Statement of Administration Policy, 15 February 2011
SCHUMAN, Daniel, Budget Technopocalypse: Proposed Congressional Budgets Slash Funding for Data Transparency, Sunlight Foundation, 23 March 2011
KUNDRA, Vivek, Sunshine, Savings ans Service, The White House Blog, 17 March 2011
Statement of Administration Policy, 15 Febaruary 2011