When first launched data.gov was the first national website for providing centralised access to government data in reusable formats.
The website was lauded globally for its role in supporting the US government to become more transparent, and allow citizens to analyse and repurpose public data.
However in March the first rumblings appeared. Apparently the site's visitor levels had plateaued, and Congressional budget cuts threatened the ongoing survival of the website as well as a range of others including USASpending.gov, Apps.gov/now, IT Dashboard and paymentaccuracy.gov (as well as a number of internal government sites including Performance.gov and FedSpace) dedicated to making government policies, processes and information more accessible to citizens.
When I first read about the closures in ReadWriteWeb's article, Data.gov & 7 Other Sites to Shut Down After Budgets Cut on 31 March, my first thought was that this was a clever April Fools prank designed to wind up open government advocates.
This was followed by the GovFresh post on 1 April, Congress weighs deep cuts to funding for federal open government data platforms and assorted coverage across a range of government IT and news websites.
However over the last week it has become clear that this is a legitimate issue, due to budget cuts the US Congress is proposing.
In response the Sunlight Foundation has launched a campaign to Save the data and a range of influential open government advocates have weighed in, such as Tom Steinberg, the founder of the MySociety charity in the UK who is now working in the UK Cabinet Office to support the UK Government's open data initiatives.
Apparently the collective cost of all the websites is around US$32 million (just over a dollar a year per US citizen) - representing 0.09% of the US budget and only 7.7% of the US government's Freedom of Information Act costs. Some commentators have pointed out that other methods of releasing government data are far more expensive and less inclusive or effective.
With parts of the Government 2.0 program (particularly the IT Dashboard and TechStat process) credited with saving the US Government billions in IT costs, the cuts of US transparency initiatives may cost the US enormously.
The proposed cuts raise several very important questions.
How much are nations - and citizens - prepared to pay for government transparency?
And how much transparency are we prepared to trade off for short-term tax saving?
How should the value of transparency be measured?
By the number of people accessing government data, or by the flow-through impact on harder to measure government cost savings and economic benefits?
How can transparency become embedded in government for the long-term?
Particularly when it may be elements of the political or administrative system who wish to constrain transparency for various legitimate, or otherwise, reasons.
It will be a fascinating, and perhaps deeply troubling, process to see how the US answers these questions - and how Australia answers them as well.