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2/24/2010
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Web Dashboards: A Window Into Government Performance

Federal, state, and local agencies are building Web portals to make data available to the public, but there are still issues over what data to release, how much, and how to ensure its quality.

In the federal government, first there was the IT Dashboard for big-ticket project tracking, then came the Open Government Dashboard, the Department of Veterans Affairs' IT Dashboard, and last week, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs' dashboard.

The OIRA dashboard aims to help the public better understand the rulemaking process in government and track rules as they move through the system, letting people know whether the rule in question, for example, could have an economic impact greater than $100 million and how long it has been under review.

It's another site in the ever-growing array of online government performance dashboards, typically Web portals with graphical representations of spending or performance data pulled from backend databases, sometimes mashed up with geodata. The primary dashboard for government spending, USASpending.gov, is about to get a major facelift.

The trend isn't limited to the federal government. Public-facing performance dashboards have sprouted up in Washington, D.C., the state of Washington, Texas, Boston, and elsewhere.

Several factors are driving dashboard implementation. The Obama administration's government transparency initiatives are a major catalyst. In addition to the dashboards already launched, plans call for a financial data quality dashboard, a performance management dashboard, an R&D spending dashboard, and even for a dashboard of dashboards, federal CIO Vivek Kundra said in an interview with InformationWeek.

"There's an underlying architecture of dashboards in development, making sure on one hand that we're serving specific communities -- for example, one about transportation, another about IT -- and allowing you to slice, dice, integrate and even create your own dashboard as a widget that can be embedded in your own page," Kundra said.

Public demand is the second major factor driving this wave of dashboards. The Internet and easy access to information is almost taken for granted today, and people are interested in keeping their government accountable and having access to government-produced information. The Open Government Dashboard, for one, is being developed with public input. "For too long, Americans have been wary of this secrecy in Washington, and information has been locked up," Kundra said.

Finally, the market and government appear ready from a technology standpoint. Companies in the private sector have been using performance dashboards products from Oracle, IBM Cognos, and SAP Business Objects tools for years as executive decision-making tools.

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