The other Vivek is wrong about open government

Whether it was written out of naivete or for the intent of sensationalism, the other Vivek, Vivek Wadhwa, misses the mark in his Washington Post piece The death of open government.

Wadhwa makes the general argument that, because U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra announced his resignation last week, open government will “suffer a slow, inevitable death.” While I agree the federal Open Government Initiative itself has lost momentum without set dates, timelines and leadership from the top, this by no means is an indicator of the overall health of open government.

Open government will never die and here’s just a few reasons why:

Spires says so

Homeland Security CIO and Vice Chair of the Federal CIO Council Richard Spires is emphatic that senior IT executives will carry on Kundra’s legacy. He writes this in a recent CIO.gov blog post:

During the past two years, I have worked closely with Vivek Kundra, the US CIO, in both my capacity as the DHS CIO and in various leadership roles on the Federal CIO Council. Vivek joined the Obama administration with a vision of IT being a catalyst for the Federal government to be much more open, participatory, and collaborative. Vivek has been a strong force for open government. He has changed the dialogue and viewpoint of agencies of the Federal government – and we will not go back. (emphasis mine)

A number of federal CIOs/CTOs I’ve talked with are passionate about leveraging technology to make government more open and efficient. These are bright, innovative public servants with vision. See Todd Park, Peter Levin, Roger Baker and countless others as prime examples.

Look local

Open government isn’t just a federal phenomenon. It’s happening in Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, and even in Wadhwa’s own backyard, San Francisco. Open data start-up Socrata has a growing customer list that includes states like Washington, Oregon, Oklahoma and Illinois.

Beyond data, groups like CityCamp and Code for America are creating an organic and sustainable movement that involves citizens and public servants.

It’s not just data

Wadhwa cites the lack of funding around initiatives like Data.gov as a prime example of open government’s demise, but open government is more than just open data.

Open source projects and ideation experiments are flourishing at all levels of government. FCC most recently began the process of re-vamping and re-launching its entire Website after 10 years using the open source platform Drupal. Be on the look-out for other major agencies to announce the same. Open source service companies are playing a key role in fostering the open government community within the Beltway through events such as OpenGovDC and regular Drupal meet-ups at Stetson’s.

Innovation doesn’t need funding

Wadhwa writes of his call to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and the half dozen replies to help fix federal government IT issues at a fraction of proposed costs. Unfortunately, he writes, “no one has taken these entrepreneurs up on their offer.”

Innovative entrepreneurs don’t wait for the phone to ring and neither should Wadhwa or his incubator-in-waiting. Follow in the footsteps of Govpulse.us and Federal Register 2.0 and create the prototype. If it’s innovative enough and executable, someone in government will be the Gov 2.0 guinea pig.

Open advice to the other Vivek

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Step away from the keyboard and engage in the grassroots open government movement, especially the one in your own backyard. Other tech leaders are doing more than just writing and theorizing on TechCrunch and The Washington Post (see Craig Newmark, Tim O’Reilly, Pierre Omidyar, Esther Dyson, Mitch Kapor to name just a few).

This isn’t a time for pontification. Government, especially open government, needs your help and leadership. It’s time to leverage your influence (and Klout score) and be the change. Inspire Silicon Valley to focus on civic technology instead of building another photo sharing app.

Open government won’t die a slow death because one of its biggest champions leaves public service.

Open government won’t die a slow death because it’s underfunded.

Open government will die a slow death if we, as citizens inside and outside government, don’t engage, collaborate, participate and do something about it.

Will Wadhwa create his own personal Open Government Initiative as many others across the world are doing? I hope so.

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh and a strategy consultant for CivicActions and NuCivic. He can be reached at luke@govfresh.com.

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