miércoles, 9 de octubre de 2013

Some lessons from the US Government #Shutdown

I should recognize that I´m quite fascinated with the idea of a government shutdown. What is happening in the USA is going beyond my imagination, not only as a civil servant but also as normal citizen. I also think we can obtain from this experience some valuable lessons. One of them I have already written about it with sadness, the conclusion that open government is expendable.

To begin with, I would have never imagined that government web sites would be included among the shut services. Nevertheless, after reading these "4 apolitical reasons for the shutdown of federal websites", I should recognise there are reasons for it. In a time when the cloud looks as the way to go, when some people even speaks about a shared data area for govs based on cloud computing in Europe, we should be worry specially about the first of the reasons. What could happen with public services if all of them are cloud dependant? What could happen in countries more and more indebted if at some point they fail to pay the bill for cloud services? And this is not science fiction. In this moment, part of the budget cutting is done in the ICT departments. The decreasing budgets has a consequence less quality of service, but the service still goes on because the government owns the infrastructure. Certainly, this is not what happen if the services are in the cloud, as it is the case of data.gov. So the first lesson is clear, thinks twice which services are you going to migrate to the cloud.

The lack of a real continuity plan is the second lesson we can learn. Of course, the majority of the readers will deny this point, but the facts are the facts. The majority of the US federal websites are closed, and there is no way a citizen obtain information about where a federal office it or the procedures for obtaining some kind of grants. It is as if a hurricane has destroyed the active and backup data centers of some agencies. Are there any solution to this situation? Could it be possible to design a continuity plan taking into consideration situations like this? Some ideas for it could be found in this article. I like the idea of building all the government web sites using open source software, and having an NGO to make daily backups of them in order to recover the service in this kind of situations.

Last but not least, the third lesson is the need of getting used to crowdsourcing to solve emergency situations. As i stated above, the government shutdown is a special kind of these situations. Once the federal web sites are shutdown, the civic apps for coordinating people are growing in importance. But it is only possible to have these apps ready if previously we have promoted its existence. Therefore, in order to be able to use crowdsourcing as a crutch in emergency situations, we need to develop the crowdsourcing capacities in the society well in advance. This article has some experiments on the topic that deserves a reading.

These are, for the moment, my three lessons from the US government shutdown. Which are yours?

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