An hour to make government better

I had the pleasure last week of spending not quite an hour of my time at the U.S. General Services Administration reviewing the public APIs of three federal agencies. We all sat around a table and they let me rant while I worked to understand their documentation, tested their APIs, and discussed what could improve the developer experience. They took copious notes, had great questions, and were even deploying adjustments on the fly.

In talking to GSA’s Gray Brooks, I learned dozens of federal agencies are lining up for these review sessions. It’s an exciting time to be a consumer of government data, and it makes me really happy that they’re encouraging citizens to actively shape this process. It was obvious how helpful it was for these government technologists to hear an outside perspective. If your local government is on the path of “Gov 2.0” see if you can offer even just a little bit of your time to share your expertise.

Unlike someone like Eric Mill of Sunlight (who also gave a round of feedback yesterday), I’m not a regular consumer of government APIs. But as a lead developer of WordPress, a citizen, and a taxpayer, I feel very strongly about an open, transparent, and efficient government; open government data; and an open web enriched by accessible APIs.

You can follow the GSA’s efforts at 18f.gsa.gov@18f, and GitHub. For the record, the U.S. agencies were ForeignAssistance.gov (State/USAID), FEMA, and the FDA.
Bonus: About three years ago, when Ben Balter was at the FCC, he wrote an API Terms of Service that was heavily inspired by WordPress.com’s own TOS. Ben is now a government evangelist at GitHub — where you can now find WordPress.com’s TOS. Anyway: it turns out that the TOS he wrote for the FCC is now used by more than 20 other federal agencies, and the GSA is pitching it as a common template for all agencies. That’s quite the body of derivative work.

WordPress: So Easy a Congressman Can Do It

The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform launched a new site on WordPress today. This is really cool for a few reasons. Rep. Darrell Issa tweeted about it this morning, saying WordPress is “rare” for government and said it was “to support fast improvements in response to your feedback.”


Government moves at a pace best described as glacially, so for them to recognize that WordPress can help them react quicker, that’s just huge. I’ve learned in D.C. that ease of use and speed of development are very rare things for .gov sites, even those built on open source. Not to mention cost-effectiveness in an age where federal government IT procurement is being upended. Look, they even created cheesy WordPress-in-government infomercial:

The video takes a shot at bad government websites, and while the new site isn’t the prettiest thing in the world, I like the point they’re getting across: Government can excel on the web using the same free publishing software as many of their constituents. It won’t be rare for long.

Related: Ben Balter’s post on WordPress and government from last week is making waves.

Bonus: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently gave their WordPress site a new coat of paint.