A leading analyst of the federal government’s transparency efforts in cyberspace says that websites about agency spending have had little impact on how our country spends the taxpayer’s money.
Mark Forman, who served as the e-Gov administrator under President George W. Bush, told Federal News Radio’s Francis Rose that he is not certain that a “business case” can be made for the open government websites that are expected to go dark in the next few months due to a lack of funding.
Forman said that — as a general principle — public scrutiny of government operations has always been a good thing in the history of this country, starting with newspapers in the era of the Federalist Papers. Translating that general principle into the language of a “business case,” however, is another story:
You’re looking for what money was rescinded as a result of the use of this tool or… how much faster could government react. Did you prevent it from being spent? These tough questions are what some outside of our community may ask for and I just think it’s very incumbent to go back and look at a basic business case-type approach to justify these investments.
Forman said he does not feel that transparency actually changes the way agencies spend money:
There’s a lot of things we want about government to be transparent and a website doesn’t change some of the management philosophies. So I think it’s really incumbent on folks inside the administration, when they put forward their budget, whether it’s for one of these initiatives or any other, to clearly articulate a measurable value proposition.
Forman expressed doubt that the Obama administration has, in fact, done so.
While a range of federal government websites is slated to go dark this year, Forman singled out USASpending.gov as one that would be worth keeping as well as improving.
“It needs to really progress as one point of finding information,” he said. “It has got to move beyond just awards to actual expenditures.”
In other words, Forman explained, the website should not just track the awarding of contracts: “It’s really what does the government spend that ought to be their focus.”
Forman called himself “a big supporter” of that sort of government transparency: “You’ve got to really make the business case on what does it mean [to shut down a website] relative to the benefits.
“It’s pretty hard” to make that case, he said.
Forman was the Office of Management and Budget’s associate director for IT and e-government during the early years of the presidency of George W. Bush. He went on to serve as a partner with KPMG, the auditing and professional services firm, from which he retired in January.
He is presently involved in running ezgrantfiling.com, a website dedicated to simplifying the interaction of the private sector with the federal government.
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