Posted on 05-25-2013
One of Mr. Werfel’s first actions on the job should be the immediate implementation of the groundbreaking Presidential Executive Order and Open Data policy, released last week, that requires data captured and generated by the government be made available in open, machine-readable formats. Doing so will make the IRS a beacon to other agencies in how to use open data to screen any wrongdoing and strengthen law enforcement.
By sharing readily available IRS data on tax-exempt organizations, encouraging Congress to pass a budget proposal that mandates release of all tax-exempt returns in a machine-readable format, and increasing the transparency of its own processes, the agency can begin to turn the page on this scandal and help rebuild trust and partnership between government and its citizens.
Making IRS data open won’t solve every problem; the recent scandal has proven that the IRS must be more transparent about both the information it collects, but also how it manages that information. A commitment on day one to share the data it collects in a machine readable manner would show true leadership by Mr. Werfel and help solidify the Obama administration’s legacy as an open government.
From my vantage point, in the world of APIs--I can't help but feel the solution to our "big government" illnesses is a little API therapy. The Open Data Policy has set the bar, and its up to the individual agencies to pay attention.
APIs are not just a technical band-aid. APIs start with a technical seed, but if a business or government entity internalizes the concepts around opening up, providing access, and setting up a feedback look with the public, partners or even with other departments, they will potentially let in a little sunlight. Something that can go a long way in preventing many of the illnesses we often associate with "big government".
I'm optimistic that the IRS can regain its footing. I'm seeing a lot of API and open data innovation coming out of the federal government lately. For such a controversial entity like the IRS to recover, they will need to open up, and communicate with the public, in a way that only APis can provide.
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