Notes and Reflections by feoMike

what i did on my 2nd furlough day

what i did on my 2nd furlough day

yesterday was my 2nd furlough day in the 2013 government shutdown. three small things happened to me personally yesterday that make me stop and think about the importance of government services. in particular government electronic services and open data drive a significant portion of the american economy. without these services, that is without government investment in open data and electronic services, some portion of the economy would be significantly more costly to implement and even not able to function because it would be too expensive. these stories points to the importance of government open data, and how commerce is actually stifled because of the shutdown.

while home, i received an email from @benbalter which asked if i knew of an open dataset which linked 113th congressional boundaries to ZIP Codes. he asked this question because a) someone asked him and b) the federal government shutdown has also shut down all of the government open data download sites (well almost all government web sites). so i took it upon myself to create one. the results of this analysis are here and were remarkably easy to create. this cost $0 in software, $0 processing, $0 in data hosting and took less than 1 hour to create (writing the readme actually took the longest).

i also received an email from my brother-in-law showing his support for the shutdown. in it, he made this statement “The IRS shut down their tax verification services -so lots of loans that need to fund are on hold”. Now i have not verified this, but if true, a subsequent result of the shutdown is a hold on a significant US commerce sector, home loans.

finally, at the end of the day, i received this tweet asking if i knew a replacement API for the US Census Block lookup API we developed. the twitter conversation ends in an example site that uses his API, yet another example of how open data drives US commerce.

these three examples, all in one day time span, made me realize what a tremendous investment the government has in everyday life. these investments are persistent, pervasive and have a significant positive impact on the US economy. in example one above, knowing that there is a relationship, a geospatial relationship, between congressional representation, and a surrogate for where people are (e.g. ZIP Codes), means that individuals in sectors like direct marketing (wikipedia suggests that in 2010 ~$153 billion was spent on direct marketing in the US) can actually perform its most basic task; which people are in specific places that i want to reach out to. i have no idea really what this particular task i helped support, but i do know that government created the congressional district geography and the postal geography. without these basic units and the opportunity to use this as open data, this industry would have to invest significant money to make its roi, and perhaps would never indeed have a business opportunity because of the cost to perform one aspect of its market (determining basic geography).

again, i have no experience in the home loan sector, and no experience in the tax verification service my brother-in-law talks about, but a quick search illustrates that perhaps this is a trillion dollar a year market and indeed forbes is reporting how this could hurt the US economy significantly.

finally, my colleagues in the bay area have created this great site. its search utility uses a geographic search utility created by my office in the federal government and meant to be a free open utility for allowing the exact use case they have implemented; open data to spur innovation and economic value. lacking the API implemented, their site needs to have some other investment to make their own ROI work. work they had not expected.

we all rely on the federal government for all kinds of services every day. shutting it down hampers economic development, particularly because open data and electronic services which can only really be developed by the government mean investment in other sectors end up failing.