HIT Think

Realism: The Other Side of Obama’s Data Plan

President Obama’s directive to make federal data more accessible and useful is a nice idea. But clearly, he doesn't have the slightest idea of what it takes to create digital interfaces to data that can work all the time across multiple platforms and without glitches.

Just as a simple example: a major bank for which I do contract work had paid a group of programmers to create an accounting program. After three years and having spent several million dollars, they fired the group because the software still didn't work. Creating digital tools, applications, and interfaces is not easy work. If it were, everyone would be doing it.

More importantly, doing something that presents a uniform face to the information-consuming public requires cooperation in the design and implementation of proposed solutions. This is something for which government is not known. Departments sequester information often for no other reason than simply to show that they have the power to do so. To expect the floodgates of Christian charity to open wide to usher in a new age of interdepartmental cooperation and goodwill is tantamount to believing in the tooth fairy.

I know that news like this always makes for good press, but I do wish that there would be some kind of reality check with regard to its probability before such a pronouncement is released for publication. The track record of this administration's visionary successes is not high. First there was supposed to be a flood of green jobs that would extricate the nation from the recession. Those jobs simply didn't materialize, surprising both the President and his administration. Then there was the health legislation which was promoted by the President himself. I can vividly recall him telling the nation in a news conference that the growth of health care costs threatened to make the national economy "unsustainable." Now that we are knee deep in a sudden tide of I.T. expense directly attributable to that legislation, the discussion of reduced health care costs seems nearly ludicrous.

So, now comes the idea of making government data accessible by any computing device...within a year. It reminds me of President Jimmy Carter's initiative to rewrite all laws in everyday English. It was a noble idea, but it was impossible to produce. President Obama's idea is worthwhile, but he has no idea of what it takes to achieve what he has demanded, and he has no idea of what something like this would cost and how long it would take to produce it.

The next time his campaign for reelection needs a boost, I hope he will spend a few days with a company like IBM, Accenture, Boston Consulting Group, or any number of other consulting organizations that could give him a realistic understanding of what it takes to make it happen before proposing something whose achievement is not even remotely possible within the stated time frame.

Robert DeFazio is president at Calabria Consulting. He can be reached at rdefazio@att.net.

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