Canada’s Open Government? What about the F-35?

Let’s face it. We’ve got to get this right. Our economy and the future of children depend on it. It’s called an open and transparent government.

Canada has taken some steps forward in the last year. We are members of the Open Government Partnership. As such we have a commitment and action plan for becoming open and transparent. But we have a long way to go.

Kudos to the fifth estate for their excellent investigative broadcast on the F-35 controversy. It’s a shame that our government procurement system is so broken. It seems like the larger the price tag, the more room for corruption and cronyism. I mean if this was a procurement for a $1 M there would be more transparency and accountability for the decisions being made. At least, a government official would be available for interview. In this case (for a $25 B, and rising, procurement), the Royal Canadian Air Force presented the F-35 as the best option with key missing information from the competing aircraft.

Then, according to the fifth estate, when Canada decided to sole-source the F-35, the government based its decision on subsequent information obtained from the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter’s office who will benefit the most from the Canadian sale.

Photo credit: Defense Industry Daily

In his interview with the fifth estate, Pierre Spring, an ivy league “systems genius” who was a designer of the F-16 (the most successful U.S. fighter) is convinced that the F-35 is “inherently a terrible airplane” based on a “terrible idea.” It will not be successful as a combat plane or as a bomber. “The point is to spend money. That is the real mission of this airplane … to send money to Lockheed Martin,” says Spring.

A procurement process like this needs to be transparent, otherwise we do not know whether the government is acting in the interest of taxpayers.

We need to ask why the following people refused to be interviewed by the fifth estate for their investigation: Defense Minister Peter MacKay, Deputy Defence Minister Robert Fonberg, Associate Defence Minister Bernard Valcourt, Assistant Deputy Defence Minister (Materiel) Dan Ross, Chief Financial Officer, National Defence, Kevin Lindsey, Tony Clement, Industry Minister from 2008 to 2011,Lieutenant General Andre Deschamps, Chief of the Air Staff … the list goes on.

Canadians need to demand this transparency. We need to hold our government accountable. Otherwise, we are not taking responsibility for ourselves and for future generations of Canadians.

So what can we do? I suggest we unite online. Join a Facebook page. Demand transparency for the F-35 initiative from our elected government officials. Stop the bleeding, if that is what is required.

The Rise of Municipalities

I’ve recently been thinking about the success and proliferation of government 2.0 and open data within municipalities. It seems to me that local government is best positioned to provide government 2.0 services and open data to citizens. The state and federal level also have many opportunities, but a lion’s share belongs to municipalities.

At the local level services are more immediate, if only for their geographic proximity. We want to know when our garbage and recycling will be picked up, when the road, sidewalks and fire hydrants will be cleared of snow, what are the best days to water our lawns, when the pothole outside of our house or on the way to school will be fixed, where are the best restaurants, where is the closest park, what is the best bus route or less congested traffic route to get us to work in the morning, and where are the parking spots.

New York City is leading the world with municipal open data and government apps. One example is Work +, which helps people working from home get out into the community by finding places nearby that are good for working. Or how about the Funday Genie, an app for planning a free day with a unique algorithm for a smart, personalized itinerary of fun things to do with your day? Embark NYC provides an elegant and simple app for citizens who want to get around on the New York subway, and it even works with underground with no cell signal. 596 Acres helps the citizens of Brooklyn become aware of vacant public land in their neighborhoods and provides tools to support communities organizing to get access for growing food and providing educational programs. These examples, and many more can be found at the BigApps3.0 site.

But you don’t have to go to the Big City to find great examples of #localgov20. The City of Edmonton has the mobile trash app, iPhone events calendar, Volunteering “Not for Profit” organizations iPhone app, and iFish Alberta, just to name a few. Vancouver has apps that let citizens know when there garbage will be picked up and where to find parking spots.

It will be interesting to see the evolution of municipalities in the next decade. I believe municipalities are well positioned to leverage the changes in government 2.0 and open data. As municipalities provide more locally relevant data and services, we may see a shift of focus and funding from the provincial/state/federal levels of government to the local level. We also may see a consolidation of municipalities into larger super cities such as we see in New York, Tokyo, Mumbai, Mexico City and Sao Paulo. In Canada, we’ve seen the consolidation of Toronto with its 5 neighboring municipalities in 1998, and a similar consolidation of Ottawa, Hamilton, and Greater Sudbury in 2001.

The other thing that cities tend to do well is collaborate with each other. With tight budgets and important services to provide, local governments are motivated to innovate, share and synergize with other municipalities with the goal of doing more with less. A recent example of this is the U.S. Conference of Mayors task force chaired by San Francisco Mayor, Edwin M. Lee, that wants “to help build an ecosystem that will help cities advance and prioritize innovation to improve government.”

Cities are smaller than state/provincial/federal government, and therefore usually more agile, responsive and closer to citizens and their needs. As we move from a vending machine model of government (where citizens put tax dollars in and receive services) to a more collaborative, citizen-centric approach, I believe we may also see a corresponding shift of some services from the provincial/federal level of government to the local one.

PS. I’m experimenting with a new format for these blog posts. Rather than spending too much time with an idea and ending up with a draft I don’t publish. I’m committing to throwing half-formed, more spontaneous, less self-censored ideas into the blogosphere. In other words, I’m taking some risks and invite collaboration and feedback. Please excuse typos.

Back to you …

Open Government Risk Aversion one of Government’s Greatest Risks

As we look across the open government landscape, we see shining beacons of leadership and success. Certainly since the election of Obama and the subsequent appointment of the first U.S. Federal CIO, Vivek Kundra, the U.S. Government has lead the world in the technology-enabled transparency.  The U.S. drives performance and opens data to engage citizens, businesses, and policymakers to create citizen-centered apps for a fraction of the cost of traditional development. The U.S. open government strategy has saved U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars in I.T. spending over the last two and a half years by engaging citizens to develop hundreds of innovative, lightweight and cost-effective apps based on open data.

The U.K. also embraces open data and open government to allow government to be more transparent, efficient and responsive to the needs of its citizens. Data.gov.uk allows citizens to easily search and consume data, share applications, find developers and request new data.

Closer to home, British Columbia was the first provincial government in Canada to launch an open data website (data.gov.bc.ca) with a progressive data license, over 2,500 data sets, and tools for non-developers to create applications. On the same day, BC launched a redesigned, citizen-centric website (www.gov.bc.ca) and a new, open information portal to proactively release information that is requested through the FOI process.

However, a quick environmental scan reveals that the majority of governments in Canada (federal, provincial, territorial and municipal), and indeed the world, are resisting the movement to open government. Although, according to Mr. Kundra, there are “21 nations, 29 states, 11 cities and several international organizations” that have initiated open data platforms, most have not yet implemented an open government policy.

Interesting, when you consider the following benefits of open government.

  1. Open government stimulates economic growth and saves government money, in a time of extreme economic and budgetary pressures. Open government:
    1. Enables government to do more with less by leveraging technology and engaging its greatest resource – citizens.
    2. Assists in the development of new products, services and businesses.
    3. Encourages research and development and educational and scientific communities
    4. Replaces many large, costly IT projects (which take years to develop and often underperform because business requirements and technology change in the time lag for implementation) with smaller, citizen-centric applications that deliver incremental, focused business value early in the project lifecycle.
    5. Reduces the requirement of what can be expensive FOI requests with a proactive FOI strategy.
    6. Stimulates the economy by providing jobs to small, start-up technology firms which leverage open data to create value for citizens and by providing more agile, responsive services to businesses to help them be more competitive in the global marketplace.
    7. Increases accountability and reduces expenditures that do not provide appropriate return on investment for citizens with public scrutiny of government spending.
  2. Open government makes government more transparent and accountable and drives. Open government:
    1. Engages citizens, NGO’s and businesses in the consultation, deliberation, decision-making and implementation of public policy, to drive more effective and responsive results based on supporting data.
    2. Reduces the risk of ‘hacktivism’ (politically-motivated hacking into computer systems) and political unrest because citizens and interest groups are engaged in the political decision-making process.
  3. Open government greatly improves services to citizens by becoming more citizen centric and collaborative.

Risk aversion and fear of the unknown thwarts public institutions from realizing the benefits of open government. I find this interesting because it is risk aversion in the area of open government that could be one of government’s greatest risks. Government’s risk aversion to open government leads to greater risk of:

  1. Real or perceived government corruption
  2. Poor investment management decisions
  3. Alienation of citizens, businesses and interest groups
  4. An underperforming economy
  5. Not getting re-elected