We spend a lot of time talking about how Government does a lot wrong with data. And we harass them and complain a lot to the extent that even I get on my own nerves. But the fact is, the people and programmers working on these projects on the inside are neither malicious nor incompetent. The problem isn’t people, but a weird system of priorities and incentives that often leaves the citizen short-handed. After all, transparency isn’t even an inkling the constitution (yet!) and I’m fairly certain that the framers of our constitution weren’t really considering data portability when they drafted the Bill of Rights.
The reason we push for developer data and access to government information isn’t just because we’re developers and want to make neat new applications, but because we want government to release all the story not just the story that government elects to produce for citizens. Too often this method of disclosure-through-press-release is an editorially chosen artificial barrier built by people who often think they’re doing bonus work for the citizen.
But it just isn’t good enough. See– we want to see both the information government has chosen to deliver and the recipe for it, alongside its ingredients. Imagine, for instance, if Recovery.gov launched, and the Obama Administration just outright claimed success, and cited through press release, millions of jobs and economic recovery. That, after all, is the alternative. Instead, Recovery.gov’s done exactly what it’s supposed to do– make it so that people can look at the data and make up their own minds as to what is really happening.
And yeah, the data’s bad. But in the world of transparency, when thousands are complaining about data, that’s the win! That’s the way its supposed to be. The point of disclosing information to the public is so that the public can find the errors real-time, online, machine readable, and license free. In a politically charged debate over a controversial program, its easy to take pot-shots at the messenger (Recovery.gov), but what Recovery.gov is doing is shining some sunlight in some really interesting places, letting your average citizen see why data quality and real-time reporting really matter.
Whether or not it was worth 8.5 million dollars is largely up for debate between partisans, but I do know this: I’m glad it is there, and I based on the debate and discourse we’ve seen so far, it is doing its job.