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    Posted April 11, 2011 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    U.S. government is 'open for business'

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    Government Could Get an 85:1 Return on This Investment...But Won't


    If I offered you an investment that, for every dollar you spent, would save you $85, you'd take it, right?

    You'd have to.


    And that's why you'd never stand a chance in politics.

    You see, with the government in the midst of a fiscal crisis, the political parties battling over what to cut, and Congress and the President repeatedly engaging in a game of chicken over shutting down the government, there is exactly one government effort that shows a documented return of $85 for every dollar spent.

    And it will be shut off in six weeks for lack of funding.

    The effort in question? The Obama administration's open government initiatives.


    Federal News Radio explains, "funding will begin to run out on April 20 for public sites IT Dashboard, Data.gov and paymentaccuracy.gov. "Those are the public-facing sites. "OMB also is planning on shutting down internal government sites, including Performance.gov, FedSpace and many of the efforts related [to] the FEDRamp cloud computing cybersecurity effort."

    Two other sites critical to open government, USASpending.gov and Apps.gov, "will run through July 30 but go dark soon after."


    These websites, all of them less than two years old, allow the public to track government spending,  measure the effectiveness of various programs, and use government-generated data for private research that feeds innovation.


    Whatever you think of the current administration's politics, there is little dispute that they've done a tremendous job managing federal IT policy more efficiently. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra estimates that these efforts -- particularly the IT Dashboard -- have saved the government $3 billion on IT projects.

    Kundra told Federal News Radio that, with the help of these tools, the administration had "identified under-performing high priority IT projects and began an intensive review of these programs, eliminating ineffective projects, reconfiguring others, and targeting IT expenditures more carefully."


    And now, the one place that created a view into how government spending is allocated is going dark because there isn’t enough to spend.


    The cost to keep them running? $35 million, according to the White House's 2011 budget request. With a return of $3 billion, that's $85 saved for every dollar spent.

    The House of Representatives, however, has allocated exactly $2 million to the projects in its proposed budget. The Senate has done slightly better, but still well short of full funding, at $20 million. Neither amount will keep them running.


    As David Gerwitz at ZDNet has pointed out, the U.S. admits to spending $50 million per day on Libya alone – and may actually be spending as much as $2 billion per day, if Forbes is to be believed.


    Heck, the Bureau of Land Management plans to spend $129,418,000 next year maintaining a reserve of helium underground in Texas. I'm not kidding – look at the request [PDF]. It's under "Helium Fund."


    If we can find $129 million for helium storage, we can find a quarter of that amount for open government initiatives.


    Even critics of the sites know how much this matters. The Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit group promoting open government, told The Hill just last month that the sites were "tremendously disappointing." Now, the Foundation has started a petition trying to win full funding for them.


    Even Tim Berners-Lee, the celebrated "inventor of the Internet," has signed it and re-tweeted it.

    Let's hope it works. Many of these sites were like flashlights into the dark corners of government spending, which is like cockroaches – afraid of the light. So here we go, back in the dark.


    Whatever happens, though, the struggle to keep these initiatives open raises an important point for the contracting industry.


    The government is struggling to make its spending more efficient. Politicians will grab headlines crowing about their part of that fight, but they're rarely even aware of the nuts and bolts of spending. They're usually distracted with symbolic fights over funding things like public broadcasting, which both sides use to incite their bases of support.


    But the real struggle to spend government money efficiently isn’t about hot-button social issues like that. It's about taking the kind of efficiencies that private sector companies perfect to survive, and bringing them to government operations.  Sites like data.gov are part of that effort, but it will go on even without them.


    Stan Soloway, President of the Professional Services Council, told us back in November that the key to success for government contractors in the new environment was to teach our government clients how to measure and streamline. He's still right.

    The morning after USAspending.gov goes dark, your business development team will still have to attract clients who face declining budgets and expanding missions. If you can master teaching them how to do that, you'll have a long future in this business – whether your performance is documented on a public-facing website or not.


    And you'll need it. You're never going to be able to run for office, with all of those reasonable thoughts in your head.

    Jeff White is Deltek's VP, GovWin, the network that helps government contractors win new business every day. He can be reached at jeffwhite@govwin.com, or follow him on Twitter @Jeff_White1347.

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