Thursday New Tools Feature: Federal Digitial Data Dump

In its continuing effort to bring our government into the 21st century along with the rest of us (excepting Republicans, who really put the OLD in G.O.P. these days), the Obama administration today launched a transparency and open government initiative. Check out this video of Valerie Jarrett introducing the initiative today: 

As one of the first "featured innovations" of this initiative, the Obama administration also launched a new Web site, According to the introductory blurb on this new site,

The purpose of is to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. Although the initial launch of provides a limited portion of the rich variety of Federal datasets presently available, we invite you to actively participate in shaping the future of by suggesting additional datasets and site enhancements to provide seamless access and use of your Federal data. Visit today with us, but come back often. With your help, will continue to grow and change in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Strictly speaking, there isn't really any *new* information here, but even though it is somewhat limited in scope at this point, is already a very powerful set of tools that makes it much easier to mine the vast depths of data generated by the government. They have already aggregated and indexed a staggering amount of information, and made it easily and instantly searchable.

Unless you've been desperately searching for all of the most current statistics on marriage and divorce rates in the U.S., you may have trouble getting too excited about this. But here's why it matters:

A former teacher of constitutional law, President Obama has so far received mixed marks on government openness and transparency. In particular, his decisions to keep past abuses covered up (see recent decisions not to release detainee abuse photos or the missing Bush emails), and even to continue controversial Bush-era policies on state-secret privilige, warrantless wiretapping, "national security letters", rendition and the use of black sites, tribunals, and indefinite detention, have been (justly) criticized by progressives.

But Obama has also done a lot to open up government, from his bottom-up campaign style to his virtual press conferences and citizens' briefing book. And while doesn't tell us anything new per se, it is a very powerful rejoinder to the myth that government need always be an inefficient, bureaucratic nightmare (one of the chief conservative rationales for privatizing everything). The government of the 21st century can be very different from that of the 20th, and with tools like, Obama is showing us how.