Tag Archives | data

Two month milestone

flowering tree in Childs Park

Monday marked two completed months with the National Priorities Project. Though these weeks haven’t produced much writing, they’ve been a whirlwind of learning:

  • Python
  • Django
  • MySQL
  • The joy of setting up a proper Windows dev environment using the above three items
  • Piston, a tool for powering APIs through Django
  • Linux
  • Git/Github
  • The Federal Budget process
  • The Consolidated Federal Funds Report , a huge annual file of government expenditures.
  • Various other indicators about the state of our union: gas emissions by state, average teacher salaries, people in poverty, insurance enrollments, etc.
  • Finally, I’m NPP’s interim Twitterer, a fascinating distraction.

One day soon I’ll write a Dummies Guide to Setting up Python/Django/MySQL on Windows post. In the meantime, it’s great to be back in the hands-on tech saddle.

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Save the data, save on FOIA?

Last week I wrote my first entries on the National Priorities Project’s (NPP) blog. Friday’s piece concerned the potential $32 million cuts to the Federal government’s open data initiatives.

Alexander Howard wrote a tremendous overview of the situation, from the recent history of open government platforms to the less-than-perfect implementation of those platforms to the implications of having their funding cut from $34 million to $2 million.

He quoted some of NPP’s numbers that try to put $32 million in context. In terms of the Federal budget, it’s a tiny sum of money–.0009% of the proposed FY11 spending.

That’s an interesting figure, but even if $32 million is just a drop in the bucket, that’s not to say we should spend it carelessly. I’m new to the open government scene, but you don’t have to dig too far into Data.gov to realize it’s far from perfect. Howard’s primer provides some insight into the perverse incentives behind quirks like datasets split up by geography and agencies that don’t publish their juicy stuff.

But consider another number we published: $32 million is 7.7% of the amount that the government spent processing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in FY10.

A compelling story would be to find out what types of FOIA requests could be serviced via the Data.gov suite of sites. Even better, why not use these requests to prioritize the data that’s released online?

If we can use $32 million to take a bite out of that $416+ million FOIA bill*, why not pursue that investment?

Some of my colleagues would say because it’s not about the money—it’s about policy. As a developer, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around that. Policy? Why wouldn’t our elected officials just make decisions that are logical?

It seems I have much to learn.

*figure pulled from FOIA.gov/data.

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The new gig: return to data

Open Government Data Venn Diagram

diagram by Justin Grimes

I’m about two weeks into a new job with the National Priorities Project (NPP), a small, non-profit organization based in Northampton, MA.

NPP’s mission is to educate citizens about their federal budget: the budget process, the proposed numbers, and how our government ultimately spends money. All too often, it’s difficult for people to understand how the huge numbers bandied about in Washington, DC affect their states, schools, and communities.

The organization began in 1983, long before technology made it easier to analyze and share this information and long before the likes of sites like Data.gov.

NPP has formed some exciting partnerships in recent years, and I’m excited by our direction: combining the staff’s budget experts with an improved database search tool (launching soon) and an API developed in conjunction with the Sunlight Foundation. Finding additional indicators that, when combined with spending data, will tell a richer budget story. Telling those stories and giving our constituents the means to tell theirs too.

My role will be to look after and augment our database and help create visualizations and web tools for general use. Naturally, I took it upon myself to expand the job description to blogging, so look out budget analysts: I’m coming to gum up your blog with data stories.

It’s daunting, but I’m very excited to jump into the government data transparency community and learn the ropes. I’m also thrilled to return to a data-oriented job.

The ecosystem of government departments and agencies and their respective datasets is downright crazy, but I like crazy. It makes for good blog stories.

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