Budget Deal May Shut Down Open Government Websites

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The Obama Administration’s Open Government Initiative takes a budget hit.

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Congress’ recent budget deal for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 presents new challenges for the Obama Administration’s ability to achieve the goals set forth in its Open Government Initiative (OGI).

The appropriations bill agreed to by Congress and the White House slashed funding to the Electronic Government Fund (EGF), the source of support for projects making federal government information accessible online.  The Obama Administration requested $35 million for this fund, but the appropriations legislation only allocated $8 million.

These funding cuts, if not subsequently supplemented, could jeopardize the continued existence of Data.gov, a website launched in May, 2009, to provide public access to federal data catalogs. These cuts might also threaten the continued viability of IT Dashboard, a site created in June, 2009, to display federal information technology (IT) investments and help the public and federal officials track their effectiveness.

EGF also funds USASpending.gov, which provides a searchable database of federal financial awards. A 2006 statute mandates that the Office of Management and Budget establish this site, so the budget cuts presumably do not threaten USASpending.gov’s existence but it could possibly undercut its maintenance.

Last Tuesday, a Senate subcommittee on federal financial management and government information held a hearing on President Obama’s plan to eliminate wasteful IT spending.  At the hearing, Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra testified about the value of OGI projects. For example, he said that IT Dashboard allows the public to monitor the progress of federal IT projects “just as easily as they can monitor the stock market or baseball scores.” Kundra said that the decreased budget will force “some tough decisions” about which OGI projects to support.

Last Wednesday, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), chair of the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee, was quoted as saying that he expects Congress and the administration will find a way to keep open government websites like Data.gov and IT Dashboard up and running.

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