The advent of the Internet has raised citizens' expectations for transparency in government. And, there are several examples of government programs that have significantly increased the public's access to government data, such as Baltimore's CitiStat and New York City's CompStat. However, the District of Columbia's Data Catalog and Feeds is the first government program in the U.S. that makes virtually all local operational data available to the public, and that makes it available in its raw form rather than in static reports in which the data has already been filtered.
The Data Catalog and Feeds program was spearheaded by D.C.'s chief technology officer, with support from the mayor, beginning in 2004. Motivated by a decade of city mismanagement, as well as an overwhelming number of permit and service-related requests, the district made a commitment to increase civic participation, and government accountability and transparency. Central to this effort is the raw data gathered from district agencies, which is housed at the Citywide Data Warehouse. The data is supplied in real-time, and in a variety of formats, via more than 400 data feeds (as of 2009) to Web sites, citizens, and government agencies. Users can subscribe to data feeds on topics ranging from public space permits and completed construction projects to juvenile crime data and government employee credit card transactions.
In addition to fostering civic engagement, the program has significantly improved government performance and lessened the burden on city infrastructure. Since the implementation of the Data Catalog and Feeds, city administrators report less time spent fielding questions and responding to Freedom of Information Act requests. Data feeds also serve as the informational backbone for the city’s CapStat program, a performance management system used by the mayor and city officials that uniquely identifies opportunities to make the district's government run more efficiently. Such readily available metrics create a culture of accountability that has resulted in improved performance in key areas such as reduced waiting room times for medical care, lower city fixed costs, and institutional improvements in fighting crime.
In 2008, the district launched an annual "Apps for Democracy" contest that asked developers to create mashup applications for the data feeds using popular consumer technologies like the iPhone, Facebook and Google Maps. The 2008 contest received 47 applications from software developers in 30 days, yielding a $2.3 million value to the city at a cost of $50,000. Winning applications included iLive.at, an application that allows residents to locate banks, grocery stores, crime data, and demographics in their area; a D.C. biking guide; historical building data; and, parking meter locations. The contest represents another way the district is leveraging the data feeds to engage the public and improve government performance.