Open Government Sites Fall Prey To Budget Cuts

The White House cancels plans to build new transparency sites and will be unable to update some established ones, U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra said.
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As open-government advocates feared, budget cuts have impacted key Obama administration transparency websites, with officials having to cancel plans for new ones and forgo improvements to others.

The White House has scrapped projects to build two new transparency sites--FedSpace, a knowledge-management site supporting government programs, and the Citizen Services Dashboard, a website providing relevant data on top federal citizen-facing services, according to a letter by federal CIO Vivek Kundra published online by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. "While we believe that we can make progress on several important initiatives, several projects will experience a sharp decline given the limited amount of funding," Kundra wrote. "No project will go unaffected."

The letter was in response to one Carper sent inquiring about what would become of open-data and other transparency sites in light of a reduction in the fund that supports them. The administration had requested $35 million in fiscal year 2011 for the Electronic Government Fund but received just $8 million.

Moreover, while the administration will continue to operate existing transparency sites such as, the federal IT Dashboard,, and "at their current levels of operation," there will be no major enhancements to them in the near term, Kundra said.

"While we will continue to work with agencies to improve the quality of data on the IT Dashboard and USASpending, we will not be able to fund development efforts to improve data accuracy through automation and streamlining, nor will funds be available to increase transparency," he wrote.

The White House is requesting $34 million in fiscal year 2012 for the e-government fund, Kundra added. If it receives that amount, "we will revisit each of these initiatives to the appropriate path forward," he said.

The cuts are unfortunate but not unexpected. In March, open-government advocacy group the Sunlight Foundation expressed concern that cutting the fund would jeopardize transparency sites, which are a key part of the Obama administration's Open Government Directive to reduce duplicative IT spending among federal agencies and increase efficiency.

Indeed, Carper, said he appreciates Kundra's attention to the matter and is pleased that existing sites will remain operational, even with the budget cuts.

"It is a prudent decision to keep as many of the E-Gov Fund websites operational as possible," he said in a statement. "These websites are an important resource and a critical part of the effort to make the government more open and transparent, while at the same time, cutting wasteful and duplicative spending throughout federal agencies."

Still, an inability to continue work to improve the sites means the feds will be unable to respond to criticism from both the Sunlight Foundation and the federal watchdog agency the Government Accountability Office about the accuracy of data stored on them.

The funding cut also is ill-timed because the administration has recently made updates to its site so citizens, agencies, and developers can use the site not only as a data repository but also as a platform for building new Web-based applications and services. Still, budget cuts should not affect the site's existing functionality.

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