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Hack the Government

Carl Malamud gave a talk at the 2006 OSCON (O’Reilly Open Source Convention) on “10 Government Hacks.” He has posted his presentation materials as a series of 10 movies with textual commentary on the Internet Archive. He says he…

…whirled through 10 hacks in 15 minutes. I left myself 23 seconds to sum it up. The hacks all have a point, and that point is that government should be less about private interests and more about the public interest. The skills we use in the open source world are tools of civic engagement, tools of citizenship. And, if we apply those skills of engagement to our government, it is possible, at least sometimes, to drag the political system (kicking and screaming perhaps) towards the common good.

Here are links to each of the 10 with short annotations on a couple of my favorites:

  • Hack 1: Be Media
  • Hack 2: Get Standing (Somebody Sold the Attic)
  • Hack 3: Be Government
  • Hack 4: Adopt the FCC
  • Hack 5: Enforce ODF By Proxy
    In my world of vaporware hacks to government I’d love to see, I imagine a Firefox extension that detects any proprietary format in a .gov URL and talks to a backend proxy running tools like docvert to convert-on-the-fly and store the doc for the next user. Government rarely provides even minimal security (https URLs, MD5 signatures on documents, signed email, etc.., etc…), so one could add value to lots of government data by signing on their behalf.
  • Hack 6: Audit the Feds
  • Hack 7: Link Check the Feds (Link Check the Mayor)
    …periodically run a link checker against all the departments, then send the head of the agency a list with the number of broken links, ranked by department. Oh, and send a copy of the list to the chairman of the congressional oversight committee. And to each department head in the agency so the ones on the top can have something to chat about with the ones on the bottom while they’re on the golf course.

    This hack works at any level of government. For example, link check your city government and send the results to your local newspaper. Pick a slow news day and your ranking will probably even make the evening news.

  • Hack 8: Annotate Hearings
    …take the time to watch a hearing and blog the good parts, it definitely gets the word out. For this hack, adopt a committee or an issue, and make a habit of watching what they do and systematically annotating them. If nothing else, you help set the terms of the conversation.
  • Hack 9: Hold Hearings
  • Hack 10: Map Spectrum (Summation)

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