Government budgets are being slashed everywhere and at every level of government. The US Federal Government, Quebec, Wisconsin, and elsewhere are seeing protests, debates, and endless name-calling as the fall-out. Much of the budget cuts will be partisan in nature, less about true efficiency than about political gains. Open government efforts are potentially on the chopping block, as I predicted they would be back in January, because of poor goal setting, lack of focus on ROI, and a bottom-up approach that encourages innovation in pockets versus innovation at the highest level.
Open government can, and should, be used to help ensure meaningful cuts are made in a manner that minimizes quality of service reductions while maximizing cost savings. How can we do this?
- Strategically use open data. The OMB cannot effectively audit the federal government today, open data, beginning with creating consistent formats for sharing this data across organizations and publicly, need to become a priority. If we are to find real waste in government this is a critical first step.
- Social media and collaboration platforms should be used to share this budget information in user-friendly formats with citizens, enabling them to weigh in on what budget cuts are, and are not, acceptable. While this does not eliminate politics from the decision-making it brings the voice of the citizens directly into the conversation.
- Elected and appointed officials must share the burden. Congressional salaries and benefits should be broadly shared and open to the same cuts federal and municipal employees will be subject to, open government is a team effort. Members of congress, governors, and mayors should all take deep pay cuts and ensure their medical coverage is the same as the rest of those in government.
There is much more that can be done, and should be done. The question, of course, is how serious will governments be about achieving real change in the process versus simply falling back to the status quo.