Federal Government Nears Completion of National Goals for Blockchain, AI, and Open Data


Federal Government Nears Completion of National Goals for Blockchain, AI, and Open Data

By Adam Karides

Despite the recent news within the blockchain community regarding China’s ban of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), the United States nonetheless remains steadfast in its commitment to supporting and adopting emerging blockchain technologies. In addition to the Trump administration reaffirming its commitment to blockchain technology to enhance government operations, federal agencies are also pushing to implement it, along with other emerging technologies. In particular, the U.S. Open Government Initiative, a program launched by President Obama to encourage a more transparent, responsive, and collaborative government, is set to release its fourth National Action Plan (NAP) later this month. These National Action Plans are collections of frameworks aimed to document, organize, and communicate the initiative’s goals to promote a leaner and more open and efficient government. And after a productive and enthusiastic kickoff workshop and subsequent hackathon in September to draft its preliminary goals, NAP 4 is nearing completion. I had the opportunity to participate in this final co-creation workshop at the National Archives Innovation Hub before the goals are officially issued later this month. Below are three themes and some underlying goals you might expect to see:

  1. Improving Citizen Services for Open and Responsive Government

Governments are created to serve its citizens, but clunky operational procedures and technologies inhibit the United States government from performing its primary duty. Fortunately, it recognizes this shortcoming and is eager to leverage emerging technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and open data to better serves its citizens.

  • Implementing Open Procurement Requirements

Accounting for about 10% of the United States GDP, government procurement is an effective tool to not only propel the economy by pumping money into the private sector, but to also promote government innovation through private sector participation. However, the procurement system is flawed – the process is too slow and nebulous to optimally tap into the private sector for its goods and services. To alleviate these issues, the government can revamp procurement by instituting a more transparent process. Namely, such a process makes procurement-related documents more widely available and tracks the performance of contracts from start to finish in order to spur competition and monitor potential corruption. The resulting process becomes less costly, more agile, and thus more efficient.

  • Encouraging Public Participation in Development of  Regulations

A more open government is a more collaborative government that enables citizens to provide input regarding its policies and legislation. While legislation including the Paperwork Reduction Act and the Federal Records Act were authored to brief the public on impending legislation, they are now outdated as they were intended to apply to the Federal Register’s print archives. Furthermore, these laws did not require the full disclosure of proposals or provide a channel for ongoing dialogue between the government and the public. By mandating federal agencies to publish copies of their proposed information collections, records, and schedules online and link them to the Federal Register, the government is facilitating public participation that can organically cultivate a more informed society and restore trust in the government.

  1. Unlocking Quality Open Data, Open Science, and Open Government

Open data, the act of making government research and other resources publicly available, can help foster further engagement and collaboration between the private and public sectors. Below are two specific goals to achieve a more open government through open data.

  • Expanding Machine Readability

The proliferation and advancement of AI machine learning presents a prime opportunity for the government to cut costs and increase efficiency by assigning machines to complete mundane tasks currently performed by humans. While the government has made strides in embracing machines as a tool for streamlining its operations, President Obama’s machine readability executive order is limited to tabular data. By expanding the scope of machine readable items to include information such as reports and charts, the government can then operate much more nimbly. In particular, documents formatted in HTML, the language that allows the linking of open data, must be made machine readable to promote a more open government.

  • Disseminating Data and Methodology Guidelines

The government is clearly making a push for more government data and resources to be publicly available. But without any guidelines regarding the safe distribution of open data, agencies and departments cannot fully and freely circulate its repositories of research. The Information Quality Act effectively ensures the accuracy of open data, but by not mandating rigid standards regarding the methodologies in gathering this data, this bill fails to support a fully open government. Broadening these standards to encompass data sources and methodologies can further validate government data and provide additional resources for citizen scientists who rely on open data for their own research.

  1. Harnessing Emerging Technologies for Open, Efficient, and Accountable Government

What systems and frameworks are necessary for the government to effectively integrate these technologies? Below are some possible suggestions, which, if executed properly, can render more efficient government operations, restore public trust in government, and comprise a blueprint for other participating governments of the Open Government Partnership to follow.

  • Establishing Open Data Standards and Interoperability

Basic guidelines are essential to ensure the dissemination of quality open data, but the aforementioned standards do not necessarily guarantee sound public-private collaboration practices. In the context of emergency response, the government is increasingly turning to crowdsourcing tactics and private-public sector collaborations that rely on open data in order to succeed. However baseline standards and consistent interoperability are imperative for building data visualization and crowdmapping programs that require open data integration to effectively save lives. By co-creating an open data roadmap and interoperability systems through smarter marketplaces and open idea exchanges, the private and public sectors can agree upon a common playbook that drives innovation.

  • Building Public Trust by Encouraging Innovation Through Incentives

The advantages of fostering a more open government are evident, but how do we nudge an agency or department to actually adopt the essential tools to become one? Incentives are a proven method for driving behavior change amongst the public, and federal decisionmakers are no different. Specifically, carving out capital funds for agencies and departments to stockpile and/or spend the money saved by implementing emerging technologies urges them to consider these devices. This type of incentive program applies the same framework instituted in the Modernizing Government Technology Act but instead targets blockchain, AI, and open data as vehicles of cost-cutting, efficiency, and innovation.

The goals that will constitute this fourth National Action Plan are just a part of the greater effort to improve government services and operations through modern technology. But they are nonetheless crucial stepping stones towards achieving a more responsive, transparent, and accountable government. By welcoming input from outside the government through co-creation such as this workshop, stakeholders, decision makers, and solvers can all be represented and involved throughout this entire transformation.