The Fed CIO Agenda: Should Every Mortgage Have A Data Tag? - InformationWeek
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3/6/2009
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Chris Murphy
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The Fed CIO Agenda: Should Every Mortgage Have A Data Tag?

Based on his track record, Vivek Kundra, the U.S. government's new CIO, is sure to push Web 2.0 tools to increase transparency. But what does that really mean? One idea: Requiring mortgages to have XBRL tags that describe them, so we could search and analyze multibillion-dollar pools of mortgages at least as effectively as photos on Flickr.

Based on his track record, Vivek Kundra, the U.S. government's new CIO, is sure to push Web 2.0 tools to increase transparency. But what does that really mean? One idea: Requiring mortgages to have XBRL tags that describe them, so we could search and analyze multibillion-dollar pools of mortgages at least as effectively as photos on Flickr.The idea comes from Sanju Bansal, COO and vice chairman of MicroStrategy. Bansal knows Kundra's thinking; he had dinner with Kundra just last Sunday in Washington, D.C., so they could chat about ways that the government could use data tagging and analysis to increase transparency. MicroStrategy makes analytical software.

Data tagging could play a huge role in the Obama administration's tech strategy, if the government uses electronic tags that put standardized descriptions on Recovery Act purchase orders, making it easier to publish, track, and search them. "I think that's going to be one of the big initiatives coming out of the administration," Bansal says. "I can tell you, [Kundra's] already thinking that way."

The Obama administration oozes faith in technology. It seems convinced that Internet-enabled transparency can give people a better lens into how the extraordinary sums of money it's pumping into the economy gets spent.

The bigger question is how far such data tagging and tracking spreads -- or is forced -- into the economy beyond government. Bansal says the mortgage idea quickly comes to mind. Banks have pools of bad mortgage assets on their books, but no one knows enough about the properties in those pools to put a good price on them. The feds could conceivably require any mortgages issued with government backing (a decidedly fuzzy line in today's banking world) to carry such data.

When Bansal discussed his dinner with Kundra at this week's Fusion CEO-CIO symposium, hosted by WTN Media, the very first question from a CIO in the audience described the mortgage idea as "shocking," given the potential privacy risks. Bansal countered that it's only shocking if personally identifiable data is included.

Understand, Bansal is not leaking some Obama administration policy by sharing his dinner anecdote. This is just two smart people talking, and these are the kind of ideas on their minds.

But I for one will be hugely disappointed if Kundra doesn't spark uncomfortable conversations like these about how the government uses data. People were shocked with how C. Everett Koop talked about sex and condoms as surgeon general. That was 25 years ago. Surely, we can handle some shocking talk about data from our government.

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