Today, US CTO Vivek Kundra is unveiling an interactive dashboard with details about every major information technology project pursued by the federal government and allow
the public [to] see each initiative's goals, schedule, cost outlays, key personnel, contractors employed, and where the effort stands in real time.
At the same event, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg yesterday announced that he wants software developers and related professionals to develop applications to help citizens navigate vast stores of data in areas like citywide events, property sales, recreational centers and restaurant inspections.
Bloomberg's administration is also giving "the thumbs-up to collaborative workspaces and launched a venture fund for tech and finance start-ups, among other things."
The federal stuff is still very Web 1.0, and while the Bloomberg data mash-up offers more possibilities for real interaction between users and the Web, that interaction is still limited to IT pros who know what they're doing with the technology.
Just like in business, where real efficiencies and innovation occur when actual knowledge workers use the collaboration tools, our society won't reap the full fruits of the interactive Web until government is itself more interactive online.
One way to achieve that is to let people allocate their tax dollars themselves. There's a platform called Kiva that currently allows individuals to look at a variety of small entrepreneurs and make them small loans; the same technology could be leveraged to allow individuals to pick from among the various federal agencies and allocate funds to them in the same way.
We could start this as a voluntary option; you file your tax return and, if you've chosen to pay taxes using a Kiva-style application, you include the receipt you've printed off the Web site after allocating your tax dollars.
You would start by either inputting the amount of taxes you've already paid through withholding, deduct your refund if any, and then allocate the rest.
There might certainly be some people who would only allocate money to the military and have nothing for the EPA, while many would do just the opposite. On the whole, though, I think we should trust ourselves to be responsible and spend money wisely, even for programs we don't necessarily love. But we would naturally prioritize government agencies we prefer over those we don't, which would be the whole point.
What would we do if the EPA got five dollars? Maybe we'd have to build in some kind of minimum for each agency. Or maybe if a given agency receives less than a certain amount, Congress would be required to report on why that agency should continue to exist and, if so, would have to fund it out of discretionary funds until the American public got back on board with it.
There has been a growing alienation between the body politic and its government -- our government -- mostly because many people feel that decisions are being made by special interests. People have the sense that their dollars are going to causes they don't support -- and which they believe most other Americans don't support either.
There are a lot of issues that would have to be sorted out -- how to educate people about the functions of the various departments, how to regulate lobbying so that companies dependent on government spending don't flood the airwaves with misinformation, and how to ensure that critical agencies continue to function if there's a sudden end to funding. That's why we should make this a voluntary trial to start with. But it's an idea we should consider now that we have the technology to really create Government 2.0.