When the annual budgets for e-government initiatives including Data.gov were slashed by 75% last month, it didn't look good for the tech side of transparency. Today federal CIO Vivek Kundra has adressed the fate of these e-government programs in a letter to congress: "No project will go unaffected" he said.

Data.gov, the repository for publicly available data that was promised as a platform to power software and analysis created by and for the public, will remain open. But "there will be no enhancements or other development to address needs for improvement." According to an analysis of Kundra's letter by the watchdog Sunlight Foundation, Data.gov may slow drastically in its efforts to both offer more data and ensure the quality of that data. Other programs, specifically the Fedspace social network for collaboration between federal employees and the Citizen Services Dashboard for reviewing the quality of federal services, will be shut down.

Data.gov Needs Improvement

Leading social data scientist (and friend of ReadWriteWeb) Pete Warden says he's cheering for Data.gov, but it needs work to serve him as well as some particular agencies do.

"I'm a massive fan of the US government's data release policy, and my work relies heavily on data they've released such as the Tiger/Line coordinates of every single street in the country. I really want the data.gov site to succeed, but as a developer I've found myself still heading to the individual departments' websites instead. The data sets are often in a more convenient form, and have better documentation. Search for "Tiger line" on data.gov for instance, and you won't see the full data set that most people need, or a proper explanation of what it is.

"By contrast, the official US Census site has a great summary page for the data set, giving a quick overview of it as well as links to older versions and related tools."

It's amazing that a time when the private sector is growing fully aware of the huge potential in Big Data, the US Federal Government can barely maintain its own minimal projects on the topic.

Global consulting firm McKinsey published a major new report this week on the topic of big data, saying it "will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus as long as the right policies and enablers are in place."

Discussing that report, leading data visualization blogger Nathan Yau writes:

"I've said it before, but if digging into data is your idea of fun, there's a whole mess of excitement and adventure headed your way. There are lots of opportunities already out there in marketing, journalism, tech, the Web, government, and pretty much everywhere you look. And more importantly, there are lots of opportunities that you can make for yourself. This is a great time for data heads."

It's heartbreaking that the Federal Government's engagement with this historic meta-opportunity appears to be waning already.