Use of Mashups in the US Government

Kevin Farnham
Oct. 23 2008, 01:33AM EDT

Federal Computer Week (FCW.com) recently published an interesting piece written by John Moore about the use of APIs and development of mashups for use by government managers. Titled "Getting on the same page", the 1200+ word article cites the problem-solving value of mashups in the government sector:

Government managers are no strangers to the challenge of trying to combine data stored in different systems into a more useful composite picture. The task is even more complex because the systems housing this data were usually not built with flexibility and sharing in mind. The emergence of so-called mashups represents a new take on this old problem.

Mashups are currently being developed and used by agencies as diverse as Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the California Health Care Foundatation (CHCF), and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

For example, HUD applies mashups in its Nastional Housing Locator System, integrating local housing data with the Google Maps API and internally developed geocoding. HUD Deputy CIO for Business and Information Technology Modernization Lynn Allen notes:

"The integration of multiple services into an application allows for a [geographic information system] application to bring together basemaps, operational data, and analytical services to create simple to complex applications that provide information and solve common tasks."

Development and use of mashups enables government personnel to improve access to and understanding of data, and save time. However, some unique constraints exist in a government environment. One problem is that the government way of doing business does not always encourage bottom-up innovation. In addition, security and data integrity issues are at the fore, since the impact of decisions that government officials make based on the information a mashup provides can affect (positively or negatively) the entire citizenry.

"Agencies are faced with having to ensure that the information and other data that they provide remains the authoritative source of the information and data," wrote Jose Alonso, e-government lead at the World Wide Web Consortium, and Kevin Novak, co-chairman of the consortium's eGovernment Interest Group.

The Visualizing Earmarks mashup, produced using the Sunlight Labs API, is a good example of the kind of mashups that, while not government created, can be developed using government data.

The Visualizing Earmarks mashup provides visualizations of "earmarks" -- that is, government funded projects that benefit a particular state or constituency, that are rolled into larger bills at the request individual senators and representatives.

See our Government mashups directory for a summary of government-related mashups.

Kevin Farnham

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