As the firestorm over the future of Open Government raged across Twitter and blogs last week following Vivek Kundra’s departure announcement, there were federal employees quietly scheduling meetings, chatting in the hallways or just simply asking questions about how Open Government can help them. Most of these employees don’t have public voices. They’re not loud. Most don’t have Twitter handles and don’t want to friend us on Facebook. But they see the real value in many of the basic principles and want to make government work better. And they’re asking about it, pushing it, albeit quietly in administrations across the federal government.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with Vivek when was the CTO for the District of Columbia Government and most recently as a contractor helping to implement many of his initiatives for several major federal agencies.
One reason his departure drew such a passionate response and doomsday forecasts was that he truly had a voice. Whether it was a room full of social media geeks with stickers plastered across their MacBook Pros, a town hall meeting full of frustrated citizens, or a garage full of bus dispatchers, he had a voice and a message that resonated. It is passionate. It is simple. It makes sense.
Who Does Open Government Belong To?
But the truth is Vivek didn’t invent Open Government and isn’t its sole leader. Beth Noveck wasn’t its sole leader either. Neither is Chris Vein, neither is Todd Park or Aneesh Chopra. And whoever the new Federal CIO is, it won’t be him or her either. It’s not something one person can own. It belongs to all of us – inside and outside of government.
As my colleague Dan Morgan points out:
Do we really think his voice will be lost where he's going? He's made a move from inside government to outside government. Is that so bad?
The transformation we've seen is that technology has lowered the barrier to entry, we've seen a new kind of activism and volunteerism spring up, and we've seen a series of government leaders harness that movement and reinvigorate what it means to participate in a democracy. The example is set, and the potential is just starting to be proven. The converts are coming.
Regardless of what you call it – Open Government, Gov 2.0, etc. – all of these philosophies and technologies make all government work better for citizens. But they also help government function more efficiently for its own employees. Supporting and pushing for transparency, innovation, collaboration isn’t completely selfless. It changes the way work gets done for the better.
It forces us to modernize and automate antiquated processes. It moves people away from mail and phone and printouts and reports, and puts the information citizens and employees need - or just want - in their hands, whenever they want it and however you want it.
'Let's Do This'
Rather than mourn the loss of one of the strongest internal voices, all of these quiet voices in federal agencies need speak up. Let’s turn the 100s of “that sounds really interesting” into “let’s do this.” And let’s document our achievements so we can turn “that will never work” into “how can we make it happen?” If you’re interested in learning more, post something or do some searches on GovLoop or your own Intranet and meet others like you.
Ms. Noveck, who also departed from government service but continues to contribute greatly to better government, summed it up perfectly in her April What’s In a Name Post:
Just as what we used to call e-commerce is now just commerce, if eventually government works with citizens to address challenges, it won't matter if we talk about open gov, good gov, e-gov, or wegov. We will simply enjoy functioning, legitimate – Government.
So please speak up. Please step forward. People will listen and act if it’s simple and makes sense.