Sasha Kamenetska | Contributor
April 25, 2012

Government for the people: APIs are making government more transparent


We have all had at least one experience that has made us wish we had never gotten a driver’s license, a car or a passport.  That moment when you realized you’d just wasted 3 hours of a perfectly good day waiting in line for a basic government service.  (Mine was waiting 4 hours as a 14 year old during my spring break for a tiny receipt that would allow me to get a passport). 
Thankfully, it is starting to look like the days of long lines and complete confusion over government paperwork are numbered.  It seems that every aspect of the government is getting a 21st century makeover as more governments realize that they can better serve their citizens by opening up their data through APIs.  Just a few examples:

  • In 2009, New York City announced the annual NYC BigApps competition where developers competed to make apps that use city data; in 2011, the city even solicited suggestions from citizens on what apps they wanted to see come out of the competition
  • New York City, San Francisco, and Washington DC (and other cities around the world) have made their data available online and even opened up specific APIs so that developers could make city-living data more accessible and regulations, such as parking rules, easier to understand
  • President Obama mandated the opening of in 2009 to increase transparency of federal government data on everything from labor and business data to education statistics
  • The DATA Act (currently working its way through Congress) would centralize and standardize reporting on federal government spending

Of course, just having lots of data available doesn’t do much good for a typical person – who has the time to sift through all of this information?  The answer, of course, is more APIs.  In February 2012, when ProgrammableWeb (the online directory of open APIs) reached 5,000 APIs listed, it reported that government APIs were one of the fastest growing categories.  This means that government data is getting easier and easier to consume.  The more government APIs there are, the more insight and access citizens have to their government. Everything from finding a (legal) parking spot to researching if you can get a government loan for your small business to finding out how your tax dollars were spent is getting easier.
The opportunities to make everything simpler, freer and more transparent are vast.  Now, all we need are some government service APIs and the days of long DMV lines will be replaced by a 2-minute iPhone app transaction.