Having tried since 1994 to bring government up to the highest levels of computerized operation, my latest efforts revolve around legislation now pending in the California Legislature to partially rationalize and integrate the data collection, processing, storage, and release operations of the state and local governments.
Now pending in Sacramento are bills that would require local governments to
make their collected data available to users in formats that can be easily
understood (SB 169); require local government entities to prepare an
inventory of their “enterprise” data and the IT systems that supports them (SB
272); and mandate a transition of neighborhood voting stations into an all-mail
ballot model complemented by dropoff boxes and vote centers connected to the
VoteCal computerized statewide registration database (SB 450).
Within these bills is the germ of an idea: that local and state
governments and bureaucracies can integrate their data systems into a
fully-functioning, cloud-based, 21st century network that will allow
easy use by government officials and ordinary users.
The movement to gain easy public access to government records goes under the
name “Open Gov.” California could take the national lead on this issue by
passing these bills and then moving rapidly to design and implement a comprehensive
data management system that would connect all government computers in the state
in one interoperative network and which would be structured in a way that gives
public users easy access to the data hosted by this network.
The long time it has taken to get the VoteCal system up and running testifies
to the difficulties in bringing government up to contemporary data processing
standards. But the time and money that would need to be invested in
building an integrated state data system would be amply repaid by subsequent
efficiencies and cost-savings, and improved performance based on the ability to
access and analyze in real-time the data held by the government.
Parsing the Law and
Making it Intelligible
Judicata is a legal analytics start-up
whose efforts, according to its CEO, “are around parsing the core information
that is in the case law and then building tools around that.”
Adding the data analytics capabilities of Judicata and similar companies to a
corpus of data accessible via the Web from all California state and local
government as well as from legislative monitoring sites like LegiScan would allow for the creation of a
system that could read, parse, semantically understand, and output in plain
language answers to questions about existing law, pending law, and government
policies and regulations.
For more about the advantages of having computers parse and explain law in
plain language, look at “Is
it good enough for the law to be written for lawyers?”..
Parts of the federal government, like the National Security Agency, know a lot
about hacking computer systems. Others, like the Office of Personnel
Management, apparently not so much. Why not assign experts from this
government spy agency, whose stock-in-trade is violating personal privacy in
the search for potentially useful data, to instruct and advise those in the
government whose job it is, inter alia, to protect private and
personal information from hostile attacks. After all, it takes a thief…
Meanwhile, creating an integrated network of government
data centers whose data can be queried by ordinary users and used for machine
learning by powerful artificial intelligence to surface actionable insights
leading to increased governmental efficiency and better outcomes for everyone would
be a worthwhile use of government funds and technical resources, opening up new
vistas for Open
Government and Open Data.
Passing SB 169, SB 272, and SB 450 could be the first
steps on a swift path to this future.