Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Government should take charge of technology innovation, not outsource to Google

Google will soon begin bidding on federal government contracts. The company is working toward compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), a requirement for obtaining government IT contracts.

There are obvious concerns with Google managing data for the government. These include:
  • Who owns the data?
  • Who has access?
  • What if there's a breach in Google's data center?
  • How will Google employees handle such sensitive public information?
These questions are the government's primary concerns and must be answered adequately before entering any agreement with any contractor.

However, such questions open the door to more fundamental questions about how our government can and should use technology, and even more broadly how it should operate going forward.

Openness and transparency are concepts fundamental to effective participatory democracy. Without openness, there can be no understanding. Without understanding, citizens cannot responsibly participate in their government.

Does housing data, information, and knowledge in centers owned and operated by private companies go against these principles?

Google has made a business out of making the answers to the questions of how and where information is stored (as well as managed) opaque.

They argue that with data being "in the cloud," you don't need to be concerned about the details; just know it's there when you request it. This is acceptable for personal email, but it is alarming in the realm of government data.

There, the details matter. The protocols matter.

A better approach would be making investments into our government's own information technology infrastructure. This sort of capacity investment makes America stronger by making our government smarter, more responsive, and more efficient.

Just as we encourage students to pursue and a college education to increase their networking and job opportunities, we too must encourage smart investments in building our government's technology capacity.

The federal government should be the world leader in information technology innovation. Our friends at the Sunlight Foundation and the attendees of the Gov 2.0 Summit are already thinking about how to leverage technology to make government more effective. Moving forward in that direction is the smart thing to do, but we should be careful not to unwisely outsource the work.


Blogger Rob said...

That is all well and good, but it costs money for government to develop its own systems, and in the current economy where dollars are so hard to come by, working with acceptable private companies like Google can be a workable solution that saves taxpayer dollars and still tries to live within the parameters you spell out in your piece. I just wouldn't throw Google to the curb because they are a corporation. Most governments use Microsoft tools exclusively. Should they be developing their own solutions there too?

September 18, 2009 10:51 PM  

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