As I work my way through almost one hundred federal government API developer portals, almost 500 APIs, and 133 Github accounts for federal agencies the chilling effect of the change of leadership in this country becomes clear. You can tell the momentum across hundreds of federal agency built up over the last five years is still moving, but the silence across blogs, Twitter accounts, change logs, and Github repos shows that the pace of acceleration is in jeopardy.
When you are browsing agency developer portals you come across phrases like this, “As part of the Open Government Initiative, the BusinessUSA codebase is available on the BusinessUSA GitHub Open Source Repository.” With the link to the Open Government Initiative leading to a a page on the White House website that has been removed–something you can easily find on the Obama archives. I am coming across numerous examples like this of how the change in leadership has created a vacuum when it comes to API and open data leadership, at a time when we should be doubling down on sharing of data, content, and putting algorithms to work across the federal government.
After several days immersed in federal government developer areas it is clear we have a hostile CEO that will require us to shift in our API strategy. After six months it is clear that the current leadership has no interest transparency, observability, or even the efficiency in government that is achieved from focusing opening up data via public, but secure APIs. This doesn’t mean the end of our open data and API efforts, it just means we lose the top down leadership we’ve enjoyed for the last eight years when it came to technology in government, and efforts will have to shift to a more bottom up approach, with agencies and departments often setting their own agenda.
This is nothing new, and it won’t be the last time we face this working with APIs across the federal government. Even during times where we have full support of leaders we should always be on the look out for threats, either technical, business, or political. Across once active API efforts I’m regularly finding broken links to previous leadership documents and resources at the executive level. We need to make sure that we shift these resources to a more federated approach in the future, where we reference central resources, but keep a cached copy locally to allow for any future loss of leadership. This is one reason we should be emphasizing the usage of Github across agencies, which offloads the storage and maintenance of materials to each individual agency, group, or even at the project level.
It is easy to find yourself frustrated in the current environment being cultivated by the leadership at the moment. However, with the right planning and communication we should be able to work around, and develop API implementations that are resilient to change, whether they are technical, budgetary, or on the leadership front as we are dealing with now. Don’t give up hope. If you need someone to talk with about your project please feel free to reach out publicly or privately. There are many folks still working hard on APIs inside and outside the federal government firewall, and they need our help. If you find yourself abandoning a project, please try to make sure as much of the work is available on your agencies Github repository, including code, definitions, and any documentation. This is the best way to ensure your work will continue to live on. Thank you for your service.