Government Genome Project? Big Oil to Big Tech?

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Government Genome Project? Big Oil to Big Tech?

AFP today scooped the news that Change.gov was going to become Whitehouse.gov at noon EST tomorrow, communicating directly from the White House with the large population already gathered around Change.gov.

Interestingly, this video is now up at Change.gov from the team at TIGR — Technology, Innovation, and Government Reform:

Interesting quotes from this Beth Noveck (NY Law School), Dan Chenok (GM of Pragmatics, a government IT contractor), Blair Levin (financial firm Stifel Nicolaus and past Chief of Staff for Reed Hundt/FCC), Vivek Kundra (DC’s CTO), and Andrew McLaughlin (Gov’t Affairs from Google):

“Process has trumped outcome.”
Compliance has been more important than innovation
Transparency and opening up the data of government is framed against the Human Genome Project

My first glance at much of this is one of wonderment. The resources that they comment to bring in for all of this are the likes of Google, IBM, policy experts — all the ones who will benefit from these dollars spread around. This reminds me of the oil companies advising the current administration about oil policy, but this time we at least know the names.

Why will government be a better innovator than private enterprise? Should the government be using cutting edge when there are big transfer costs on failed technologies? Will they be pricing in the longer-term costs of some of these transitions? Will we have backup plans and choose technologies that we can find competitive substitutes for? We may develop a stronger technology industrial complex, winding its fingers around government and creating large switching costs in a very non-competitive environment.

This seems like a very large transfer of wealth, not just buying a lot of hardware and services, but also handing over government-gathered data. The positive argument about the data is that it possibly should have already been transparently available. My comment here is that its shifting toward transparency is going to make some folks a lot of money. The ability to make sense of all of this is not in the everyday organization’s toolkit. Those who can dissect data and resell the results are going to have a field day here, selling analysis and toolsets to companies, public policy groups, and the like.

Technology transitions are not neutral. These type of changes cut out companies and transfer wealth to favored players. What will be the parameters for evaluations of success here? How will we deal with the failures that come with innovation? Can we withstand failures in government processes? Do we want our government hanging out at the bleeding edge?

I am not saying, “Let’s not head this way.” I’m concerned at the gleaming glory of tech here. This isn’t reinventing a new Government Genome Project. This is opening the government candy store and offering our friends large handfuls…and needs to be thought through well in terms of objectives, risks, and big issues of structural inequality.

I don’t want us going from the Government of Big Oil to the Government of Big Tech. It needs to be done with some grace, fairness, and dignity — and sincere thinking about the many unintended consequences.

Meanwhile, I’ll be tuning into Whitehouse.gov to see what’s up and how we can help. I’m also going to be watching who is standing in the line to help themselves.