Written and Published by Han Institute, July 9, 2013

Problems with Obama's Initiative for "Smarter, More Innovative Government"

This week, Obama has spent a lot of time talking about making the government smarter and more efficient, and an initiative to provide government data in machine readable form to private enterprises. He has even appointed a national "Chief Technology Officer" to oversee it. The timing of these remarks to coincide with the start of furloughs of 680,000 DoD civilian workers clearly is a tactic he is using to divert attention from the disastrous results his own failed budgetary policies, and demonstrate his mean-spirited lack of understanding about the workings of his own country's government. In his view, the government's problem is simply that it is dumb and inefficient, and requires Obama's brilliant mind to make things right.

Here are the main problems with his plan:

Some government agencies have been producing data in "machine readable form" since the advent of the computer in the 1960's, it is nothing new as President Obama suggests. His ideas are too naive. We believe he may need a crash course to understand what the function of the government is before he jumps to the conclusion that it is 'inefficient' and that he is the self-appointed expert needed to show how to modernize it. We hope he will be efficiently informed, so he will stop smearing the US civilians and well-designed structures which have constantly been upgraded over the years, and are the foundation of the United States as a world leader.

His plan to "provide more and better government data to help business owners solve problems" doesn't say if the data will be free. This may just be Obama's scheme to sell public data to private companies, which raises privacy and ethics concerns. The question is if we provide the data to Google, can the fee in turn help the government sites to be more modernized to have faster servers, or is this just a scheme to steal government technical knowhow to give to privately-owned entities?

If government agencies are required to "open up" and provide their data, it will cost money at a time of rapidly shrinking budgets. In order to "open up" government data, it would require major upgrades to government servers and networks to handle new non-government customers, along with more personnel to support the effort. Because of sequestration cuts, most agencies are being scaled back and are struggling to support their core missions. There is no money for expansion into newer business customers. This effort is not free, it will require substantial upfront costs over the first several years before the data can be readily distributed to private industry.

If private industry wants to take over government functions in data management, processing and analysis, research shows that because they are doing this for a profit, it will always cost more than a government-managed environment.

Finally, in the military, restricted or classified data, by definition, can never be released to the public. A large amount of medical or financial data also requires privacy and oversight by neutral agencies that have no motive to use the data for a profit.

Please wise up and realize that in a Democracy with a rule of law, in either the private sector or the public sector, data cannot just be provided openly and freely to everyone. In today's world, accurate data is a precious resource and cannot just be handed out for free at Obama's request. People and the nation always are concerned with cost effectiveness, legality, ethics, national security and privacy.

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