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Transparency Roundup

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Virginia’s decennial redistricting process is continuing to move forward. Plans to redistrict both the state House and Senate have passed the General Assembly and are waiting on Gov. McDonnell’s desk.

The single best place to follow the redistricting process is the Virginia Public Access Project’s redistricting portal. It includes links to all the proposed plans and status updates as they move through the legislature. It also features an updated source for just about all the news articles in the state focusing on the redistricting process.

The Muzzle Awards

The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression (not affiliated with the Thomas Jefferson Institute, which publishes Bacon’s Rebellion) announced their annual muzzle awards for public officials restricting free expression or freedom of the press.

Virginia officials took home two of the eight awards. The Virginia Department of Corrections was recognized for denying prisoners access to a legal self-help book and the Administration of Albermarle High School was recognized for destroying all the copies of the student newspaper over an editorial questioning the value of physical education. In 2010 the Virginia Department of Corrections also took home a Muzzle for denying an inmate a spoken word CD of Christian sermons.

The Sunshine Report

The Virginia Coalition for Open Government has published their monthly Sunshine Report (PDF). This edition includes a wrap up of Sunshine Week, information on upcoming FOIA seminars and other miscellaneous open government information.

Fairfax County Police Oversight

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is contemplating creating a panel of citizens to review alleged police misconduct. However, reports Michael Pope of WAMU, the Fairfax police chief says such a move is unnecessary because the police plan on putting video cameras in cruisers.

Budget Cuts for Data Programs

The budget agreement to keep the federal government open for the rest of the year includes deep cuts to online tech transparency and open data efforts. According to The Sunlight Foundation

Details emerging last night on the FY 2011 budget agreement indicate that the electronic government fund will be cut to $8m from the $34 million appropriated in FY 2010, a reduction to 1/4 of its previous funding. As I explained previously, some projects facing defunding include the information repository, the government-spending reporting site, the recently-launched cloud computing initiative, citizen engagement tools, and online collaboration tools. Altogether, six project areas apparently will be affected by the cuts. By comparison, other programs in the “financial services and government sector,” which includes the e-gov fund,  were cut by a (comparatively slight) 10% from their FY2010 levels.

Meanwhile, TechPresident includes some more information on the cuts and a 12 minute video by the Open Knowledge Foundation that explains the value of open data.

The technology business blog TechCruch, however, has 5 important questions that should answer before a major effort is launched to save it’s funding, which treats the government run website like any tech startup would be treated.

The Rise  or Fall of Government Data as a Business

While the funding debate for open data programs heats up, two articles offer conflicting views on the market potential for government data.

On the one had, Sunlight Labs proclaims that the market for government data is heating up, citing Bloomberg Government.

I’ve written about this before, and generally argued that government data is a tough thing to create a business around because there’s no way to prevent competitors from undercutting you. But there’s money to be made in the undercutting. Mike Bloomberg thinks it’s worthwhile to bet $100 million on reselling government data. He’s made some pretty good business decisions in the past. A smart startup might want to take the hint.

On the other hand, Drew Conway takes a look at a database of startups and finds that the number of new companies focusing on government data has declined substantially since the late 1990s-mid 2000s period.

This result is in stark contrast to my assumptions coming into this analysis. Given the anecdotal evidence I mentioned, I assumed there would have been a steady rise over the past several years, rather than a decline. Perhaps someone who is more knowledgeable of the CrunchBase data can provide some insight as to why? Or, even better, someone in the government data space can provide alternative evidence.


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