One of the most fascinating transformations we'll watch over the course of the Obama administration is how the U.S. government embraces digital and social media to improve transparency and responsiveness. The wisdom of crowds and loss of total message control are hallmarks of online interactivity, and new technologies such as OpenCongress indicate the enormous potential to improve accountability through greater citizen participation, but these trends often conflict with the traditional patterns of government.
Already we're seeing the limits of where government is willing to go. The Obama transition ran into trouble when it was perceived that the incoming press secretary snubbed the question that the greatest number of visitors to change.gov [now whitehouse.gov] wanted to see answered: "Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor (ideally Patrick Fitzgerald) to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?" And the thorny issue of marijuana criminality almost always rises to the top of online discussions, noted Personal Democracy Forum Andrew Rasiej last week at a panel on Social and Political Innovation through Social Media, indicating that the netroots may eventually push decriminalization or legalization up the ladder of priorities.
For context on how digital accountability is already starting to crop up in legislation, here are two excerpts from the stimulus bill detailing how disclosures will be made public:
With respect to funds made available under this Act in the form of grants for operational purposes to State or local government agencies or other organizations, the agency or organization shall publish on the website Recovery.gov a description of the intended use of the funds, including the number of jobs sustained or created.
Each contract awarded or grant issued using funds made available in this Act shall be posted on the Internet and linked to the website Recovery.gov. Proprietary data that is required to be kept confidential under applicable Federal or State law or regulation shall be redacted before posting.