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Wednesday
Apr072010

Department of Defense Open Government Plan Embracing Good Ideas (first step at least)

Today the White House announced that all US government departments and agencies would be releasing their Open Government Plans to comply with the President's Open Government Initiative.

I clicked immediately to the Department of Defense page, expecting to be disappointed. When EVERY agency receives a green rating, as seen here, surely the bar is set too low. But I was pleasantly surprised: the DoD plan at least has 3 good ideas, suggested by users, that it has committed to implementing:

1. Web Site Directory. One user suggested an improved directory of the Department’s Web sites allowing visitors to Defense.gov to easily find content.  As part of an upcoming revision to the Defense.gov homepage, we will be working to make the vast amounts of content more easily navigable by visitors not familiar with the complex organizational structure of the Department.

2. Better Contract Data. Another user suggested “a regularly updated dataset with contract information available for download,” as an improvement on existing, regularly updated contract information posted on the Department’s Web site.  While massive amounts of this type of information are available in various places on the Internet, we will work to create easier access to easy-to-digest, machine-readable, and regularly-updated contract and spending data on our Web site.

--> This is an excellent recommendation. Today I viewed an amazing demo by Palantir Technologies at GovCon5 that profiled their detection of fraud committed by defense contractors receiving stimulus funding. It is true that this data exists on the web, but only cutting edge technology firms are able to really useful exploit it in the current fragmented state.

Casualty Data. Currently the Department routinely releases information about each military casualty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (name, rank, service, hometown, unit, etc.).  However, currently there is not a database or spreadsheet consolidating detailed casualty information in one place, making it unnecessarily complicated to examine and analyze the dataset as a whole.  In response to public suggestions and interest, we will provide the data in a more accessible format in the near future.

Of course, these aren't exactly revolutionalizing changes (more like should-already-exist features). Still, they're good ideas. I'm less enthusiastic about the Department's "current opportunities to engage" section, which directs citizens to "www.defense.gov/news [which] has a wide range of regularly-updated news items, and http://www.pentagonchannel.mil/ [which] has video of events with the Department’s top leadership." Rather than this canned news approach, in the wake of the WikiLeaks Iraq video scandal, I see a clear opportunity for the Department to respond to the biased presentation of the events, as they are depicted on the site, with a tough and honest response about war in Baghdad in 2007.

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