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Budget Agreement Shrinks Open Data Funding Pool

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, April 13 2011

The Sunlight Foundation's* Daniel Schuman has the latest details on how funding is shaping up for the E-Government Fund in H.R. 1473, the FY2011 budget bill currently working its way through Congress.

What it looks like is that funding for "electronic government," which provides for such efforts as Data.gov, USASpending.gov, and the IT Dashboard is settling somewhere in between 'apocalyptic,' in the eyes of open data advocates like the folks at Sunlight, and the healthy $34 million that the FY2010 budget had going towards the fund. The most recent budget bill directs $8 million to the E-Government fund for 2011.

Run the numbers, and that's about a third of the previous year's budget, which suggests that OMB will have to make some tricky decisions about what projects to fund in the open data/transparency/collaboration fields. (I checked with Schuman and his read is that that $8 million is for all of 2011, but that it's retroactive, meaning that OMB gets all of the money, but a chunk of it is expected to pay for work that has already been done.)

Now, one thing you hear from folks who work in the open government field is that it's not entirely clear that simply pouring several million dollars into one big bucket and counting on OMB to dole it out to advances in digital government is the only way to do this, or the smartest way to do this. If flagship projects like Data.gov are meant to continue on as fundamental parts of the executive branch's operations, it might make sense to authorize specific budgetary spending to them. But half-way into 2011, the short-term question is whether the funds exist to sustain the open government field until those nuances can be worked out.

You can make the case that also playing catch-up to the technology is any sort of, well, conventional wisdom that open government data is actually super productive and useful, not to mention a boon to our civic lives. The Open Knowledge Foundation is doing their part with a 12-minute mini-movie on the virtues of open data (above).

*Note: Our Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry are senior advisors to the Sunlight Foundation.