Friday, July 3, 2009

Government e-records

On the eve of the 4th, here are a couple of examples of the heady new opportunities and horrific challenges that governments face in the digital era:
  • The City of New York's NYC Big Apps contest exemplifies how a little creative thinking can make government more open and enhance citizen access to government information. The city is inviting software developers to create applications that enhance access to and use of one or more of roughly 80 datasets created by 32 city agencies and commissions. Officials are still determining which datasets will be released -- and are soliciting public comment -- but some possibilities include restaurant inspection data, recreational facility directories, and citywide event schedules. The developers who produce the applications most useful to New Yorkers will get a cash prize, dinner with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and opportunities to market their work.
  • On the other hand, the plight of Alaska illustrates just how damaging deficiencies in government records systems and recordkeeping practices can be, particularly in an era of hiring freezes and scant funds for upgrades. Alaska officials have announced that, to date, they have devoted over 4,000 hours of staff time (roughly $450,000 in salaries) to attempting to fulfill freedom of information requests for e-mails sent or received by Governor Sarah Palin, who a few hours ago announced her intention to resign from office on 26 July. This unenviable situation is what happens when an unprecedented number of sweeping requests intersects with an electronic recordkeeping system that doesn't facilitate electronic search, retrieval, and disclosure of e-mail.

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