Last year I wrote about the idea of Citizen Audits — enabling citizens to observe the activities of government by opening up their computer systems to outside scrutiny. Now via the Dead Roo comes that news that the Federal Government is quietly lurching in that direction. Just not very well. The work to date suggests to
Kieran David Bath that DOFA:
- Thinks senior management and executives in Australian agencies are stupid
- Dont have a clue what Australian agencies actually do (which is maybe because individual agencies couldnt tell them)
- Doesnt want a means of tracking expenditures for service delivery
- Wants a lot of money wasted, and go to large consultancies, mostly based overseas.
Actually, its probably a combination of all of these.
He’s talking about the new Australian Government Architecture Reference Models. For the uninitiated, these models are a high level way of describing how departments operate. So for example, the Performance Model describes how performance is tracked against department objectives, how it’s grouped and tallied, and so on. The Business Model describes how there are services, ways of delivering the service, and the function of managing Government resources, and so on.
The theory goes that the adoption of this model for all Federal IT systems and projects will allow much closer inter-departmental integration, especially on so-called “Whole of Government” (WoG, funnily enough) efforts. Since each department has the same model underlying its processes and systems, integration is greatly simplified. There wouldn’t be mismatches between fundamental ways of doing things, and moving data to and fro on particular projects would be easy. This would allow cross-departmental reports to be much easier and more meaningful. I imagine this would make the project popular with the wonks at Treasury, the RBA and the Department of the Parliamentary Library.
All good and well, except that as
Kieran David argues, the model is incomplete. It is derived from a model developed by the US Office of Management & Budget and the US Department of Defence, but lacks the detail which the yanks have managed to work into the original works. Kieran David again:
In other words, despite the American government providing less to its citizens, it can produce a detailed list of what it does provide, whereas AGIMO technical experts were unable to get a list of what our agencies do from our politicians and senior executives from departments.
Now I fear that
Kieran David may be overstating the American achievement, as it is still in large part out of sync with the realities of Pentagon bureaucracy. But in principle he is right: it is important to be able to define what the heck the departments actually do, so we can watch them more closely.
I suppose at this point I should revisit my slightly inflammatory headline and explain my meaning. Labor and the Coalition have engaged in a race to get everyone faster internet (a race which admittedly started with Howard tailgating Rudd). This will probably yield benefits to the economy, but essentially it’s not an urgent issue. I hate to pull a Bill Gates here, but for the current internet 1.5Mbps is probably sufficient. Higher rates are nice for casual users, and available at a cost for users who need it, but for day to day browsing, IMing, gaming and emailing the current infrastructure is sufficient; leaving aside the fact that the biggest bottleneck to Australian internet price/performance is actually the cost of laying fibre to California and Oregon.
I think this issue will have more important effects. To start with it will help to simplify the administration of government. If this means clearing a few desks at DOFA, good. If it means cutting the lead time on a Federal budget (currently 17 months), even better. But if it lays the groundwork for allowing citizens to query or even data mine departmental budgets and activities, even better. So if we’re going to blow a few billion dollars on things, let’s at least spend it on developing an open platform – both code and access – for the efficient administration of government. Broadband can wait.