Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Love for Dot-Gov

For ten years I've written about the rhetoric of government websites, so it is exciting to see that this month many others are discussing what was once considered to be an arcane issue for e-government policy wonks and Internet cranks unworthy of critical reflection or public interest.

For example, writer Douglas McGray points out in an article on "iGov" in the Atlantic that government websites like USASpending.gov are supporting new technologies that allow software developers to create new applications that represent data from the public record that in the past would have merely been only aggregated into government reports in what he calls "unwieldy PDF format and binders" that relatively few citizens would access. He begins by discussing the iBart trip planner for mobile devices that was created by two young entrepeneurs.

What does any of this have to do with the federal budget? Well, USAspending.gov might look like any other government Web site, but its API—that’s Application Programming Interface—allows access to the site’s raw data in an open, standard file format, similar to a transit feed. (“Wow,” Moore said. “That’s really powerful.”) Enterprising programmers, researchers, bloggers, or watchdogs like the Sunlight Foundation or Govtrack can grab that data and slice it, dice it, chart it, graph it, map it, or mash it up with new feeds.

However, based on putting Bank of America into one of its search engines, the USASpending.gov system doesn't seem to account for current bailout dollars, although it does include loans from agencies like FEMA in its calculations of how this specific bank has gained from taxpayer largesse.

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