On July 8, President Obama publicly urged his cabinet to make use of technology for a “smarter, quicker, and more responsive” federal government.
Of course, there was little information provided on specific initiatives – the President spent most of the announcement speaking about how his cabinet has already used technology to help the American people.
Obama made sure to mention how he was a champion of technology during his 2008 election. He also cited the implementation of several online features and government websites that give users access to various forms of data.
The argument was made that these programs are valuable because companies can use the data to drive growth. But Obama had just two examples: Opower and iTriage. Opower helps customers save on energy bills, and iTriage helps patients find health care providers.
And while it’s great these companies are making use of open data, this is hardly an economic impact worth discussing.
The fact is, the government has no rightful place in the free market. The real takeaway here comes from how these services can serve individuals like you:
Whitehouse.gov has a taxpayer receipt feature that allows users to see how their tax dollars are being spent. The service is definitely a step in the right direction – American taxpayers have the right to know where their money is going.
However, the information is hardly specific. There is only one level of subcategories, which means that “Health research and food safety” is about as detailed a division as you’re going to get. Not until this service separates individual departments will the public be better able to pinpoint widespread government waste and overspending.
Health Insurance Marketplace
The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, calls for online insurance exchanges by October 1, 2013. U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park verified that The Health Insurance Marketplace will be up and running by that date.
Park referred to the exchanges as impressive and user-friendly. Of course, we will have to wait a few more months to see how much that is really the case.
In any event, this common marketplace should bring much-needed competition into the health insurance industry. Users can fill out an application on The Health Insurance Marketplace and find out if they can receive lower monthly premiums from private insurance plans.
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We the People
We the People is potentially the most important online application of the government. We the People is a section of whitehouse.gov that allows individuals to create and vote on petitions. The service was launched in September 2011 and requires a threshold of signatures to warrant official responses.
If you don’t already participate on We the People, I highly recommend you begin immediately. This is one of very few platforms that allow average citizens to easily participate in lawmaking and government procedure.
And though you won’t always get the answers or responses desired, it is an incredibly valuable way of sharing your concerns with the current administration, and it also forces government accountability.
For example, a current petition to pardon Edward Snowden is sitting at over 130 thousand signatures (well past the required threshold). While it is incredibly unlikely this will warrant a pardon, it still forces an official response from the administration – a far better alternative to complete silence.
Like We the People, MyUSA is a section of whitehouse.gov. Currently in the works, MyUSA will consolidate information regarding government assistance programs.
The intent here is that businesses, individuals, and entrepreneurs will all be able to cut down on red tape, which is always a good thing – regardless of how you may feel about government assistance. Red tape only results in waste, and MyUSA will help to create a leaner government.
The most important use of technology by the U.S. government will ultimately come from the people, not the presidential administration. Now, this may seem like a radical idea, but I firmly believe that the Internet will eventually allow citizens to directly participate in the creation of law.
After all, we have the technological capability to expand voter rights far beyond the election of lame ducks and the corporately corrupted – it’s just a matter of adopting new procedures.
Specifically, I’m talking about the eventual rise of e-voting. Online voting would not only increase the amount of citizen participation in general elections, but could potentially revolutionize our political system by allowing users to vote on individual laws, forcing politicians to consider the concerns of their constituents.
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