Thursday, November 13, 2008

How Obama Can Use the Internet to Improve Government...

During the campaign, President-Elect Obama repeatedly promised to create a "Google for Government". What might this mean?

Brian McConnell of GigaOm has come up with a terrific list of suggestions. His basic idea is to allow citizens to create their own personalized web portal for services rendered by the federal government that we each deem the most relevant.

For example, he suggests:

  • Information regarding your IRS account. How helpful would it be if on our individual portals we could easily download copies of our previous tax returns, rep. contact info, links to online filing forms, etc.?

  • Stats about recent projects funded in your vicinity, so you can see how federal funds are being spent in your area.

  • Votes by your elected officials in Congress, compared against other districts, averages, etc.

McConnell's vision "is to build an interface that makes government more transparent and more like a vendor or service provider, rather than a faceless abyss for taxpayer dollars".

This sounds like fabulous PR, but there are a few limitations. First of all, such a program would only apply to services rendered by the federal government; not the state and local levels where issues like education and road infrastructure really get hammered out. Second, raising the visibility of "recent projects funded in your vicinity" would inevitably lead to a rise in earmarks and overall spending (which both parties have been railing against during the past few years of rising budget deficits). Third, privacy and security are of tremendous concern. While having a personalized online dashboard might be very convenient for each individual, the problem with centralizing all of your information like Social Security numbers and tax history in one place is that if your account was ever breached by someone else they could wreak absolute havoc over your life.

That said, it's still the start of a terrific idea. If I may add a few more suggestions to McConnell's list...

  • RSS feeds on news about our representatives in both the House and Senate. For instance, we could be notified when our members submit a new bill, or when and how they have voted on an issue.

  • A customizable calendar of upcoming government-sponsored events like, say, town hall meetings or calls for public comment on policy issues.

  • A repository of any government reports that you choose to "Save".

  • And finally - this is the trickiest one - to create a more universal, Google-like search capability to answer any Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) relating to ANY services offered by the federal government - regardless of branch, cabinet department, or executive agency.

Let's all brainstorm and come up with our wish-list.


At 1:47 PM, Blogger Robert J. Domanski said...

More great ideas from "Samir" in the comments section of the linked GigaOm article...

Two items from my wishlist:

1. I would like to be able to click on any “public” asset on Google Maps, say a park, and would like to get a breakdown of where the funding came from for this asset and where the maintenance funds are coming from.

2. I would like to be able to get a maps-based annotated version of the entire budget of any county, city, state etc.


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