Open Source Government Transparency Projects

A whole cadre of folks inside and outside government are awash with figuring out how to address the government transparency question brought on by the President’s Transparency and Open Government memo. At the end of last weekend’s TransparencyCamp, Clay Johnson, Director of Sunlight Labs, brought up the issue of bringing open source developers into the process of making government data transparent to the public. Open source developers are comprised of consultants, folks working at open source companies, and many others who spend their spare time working on open source development projects on a variety of topics. The question involves how they could be organized to work on government transparency projects.

I volunteered to look into how the SmartBuy effort in Government might possibly assist this. In the process of examining the larger problem, we are now investigating a two-forked approach:

1. Finding an easy method for allowing open source developers of all stripes to bid for jobs under the GSA schedule. This appears to be a relatively easy problem to solve. There needs to be a company willing to take on a “holding bin” type function with a simple contract that open source developers could sign on to in order to do work. This company could be newly formed, or far better, could be an existing company that already has IDIQ contracts with GSA. The real constraint is finding a company who will assume the risk associated with bringing potentially unknown developers into their contracting process. Bottom line, this appears to be a workable problem.

2. Finding a method to allow open source developers to work on free open source style transparency projects for the Government. This one may be harder. Perhaps Kundra, the newly appointed Federal CIO, already has an approach to this as part of his Data.gov effort (someone post if that’s the case), but I haven’t seen it yet.

Open Source Government Transparency Projects (Twitter hash #osgtp): The idea here is that we need to find a method in Government to set up open source projects to make data available and transparent to the public. The advantage here is that resource-constrained agencies could create an open source projects to get their data more accessible to the public. If set up properly, those in the open source community could easily grab the data (or proto-data as the case may be) remotely work on stuff and post it back, to a site like Data.gov. Early investigation points to an approach where we have a government belly button for agencies to send their requests into, and perhaps may need a non-profit on the private sector who sets up the modern equivalent of a jobs posting board which developers can register for to work on the project.

The level of coordination required isn’t certain yet, nor is the legal details of how to make this work. But the advantages are clear. This would:

  • Provide resource-constrained agencies a method of meeting the Transparency & Open Government Directive.
  • Would allow citizens to participate more fully in the government transparency process.
  • Would allow the government to take leverage the power of the open source movement to make openness and transparency a reality.

We are just getting started on this (less than a week’s worth of effort) so if there is already a larger effort in place, someone point me to it! If not, is there any interest in this idea? If you want to join in the fun (govt and industry), now’s the time. What do we need to do to make Open Source Government Transparency Projects a reality? Twitter hash for this is #osgtp

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Kris Dev

I have made the following post in the OSTP Blog:

Wrap-Up of the Open Government Brainstorming: Participation
Transparency: Access to Information

Enhancing Citizen Participation in Decision-Making

“I feel use of an open source e-Communication platform to integrate the entire vertical and horizontal hierarchy of government and governance from the national level to the last local level on one hand and citizens on the other hand for seamless G2G and G2C communications / transactions and making them transparent to the citizens through web and permitting them to vote for or against or comment on a 10 point scale using the web / phone could help in ensuring transparency and accountability”.