April 15, 2011; Source: ProPublica | While many nonprofits are focusing on the deep cuts that were made in domestic human services programs in the FY2011 budget compromise between the House of Representatives and the White House and Senate last week, another important cut has been made that threatens to reverse some of the advances made in government transparency of late.

The budget deal cut 75 percent from funding for the Electronic Government Fund, from $34 million to $8 million. This funding goes to support sites that provide transparency in government.

Apparently it could have been worse. The House proposal had been as low as $2 million. But still this is a huge cut that ProPublica says could be "crippl(ing)" to sites such as USASpending.gov, Data.gov, and IT Dashboard.

It isn't known at this point which sites the federal government will cut back on or shut down to accommodate this reduction. At risk, according to advocates, is the U.S. government's commitment to open government. On the other hand, the debate is already starting about what is or isn't working in sites such as Data.gov or generating alternatives in the wake of hints that Data.gov will be the first of these sites to go dark.

Of course, open government is not an issue of the left or right-nor is it, with such a puny budget number, a critical component of budget-balancing cuts. Both Democratic and Republican policy advocates use open government sites to find and eliminate program duplication and waste or identify programs that are underfunded and should be bolstered. In other words, open government sites like these actually pay for themselves over and over again.

Open government is a good deal for federal expenditures and definitely not a good arena for federal budget cuts. – Rick Cohen