Following criticisms about inaccurate cost ratings and scheduling information on a White House website, the Office of Management and Budget is turning to software developers for help.
On Thursday, OMB released the software code used to develop the IT Dashboard for two reasons, federal chief information office Vivek Kundra announced in a blog post.
“First, to take the platform to the next level, we want to tap into the collective talents and ingenuity of the American people, to enhance functionality, improve the code and address existing challenges such as those identified by David Powner and his team at GAO,” Kundra said. He added that CIOs from the Netherlands, West Virginia, Chicago and around the world “are all interested in implementing these platforms in their respective organizations.”
OMB launched the IT Dashboard in 2009 to inform the public about the performance of hundreds of large IT projects, but a recent Government Accountability Office report only added to the growing skepticism of the accuracy of such transparency websites. GAO said agencies’ IT managers failed to post project baseline changes or they posted erroneous information. Also, the dashboard’s calculations of some data contributed to the problem.
“Software developers will be able to collaborate, identify errors, develop enhancements, and recommend improvements to the Dashboard, and find new uses for it that we have not even imagined,” Kundra said. He went one to say, “opening up the inner workings of the Dashboard by releasing the code and the TechStat toolkit is only a first step.”
The intelligence community has talked about using open-source data for years, but a George Mason University doctoral candidate and his cohorts are taking the concept to the next level. The Wall Street Journal last week reported that Curtis Melvin and about a dozen other “citizen snoops” — some of whom are former military analysts — have spent the last two years using Google Earth’s satellite images to map out the infrastructure of North Korea.
It’s not easy, since North Korea is perhaps the most secretive country on the planet. Melvin and others sift through news reports, photographs and eyewitness accounts, and then try to match landmarks to the satellite photos from Google Earth. They’ve pinpointed what they believe are nuclear reactors, nuclearÂ missile sites, transportation and electrical infrastructure, more than 1,200 dams, 47 restaurants, palaces and a water slide for Kim Jong Il and other North Korean leaders, and the country’s massive gulags:
Joshua Stanton, an attorney in Washington who once served in the U.S. military in South Korea, used Google Earth to look for one of the country’s notorious prisons. In early 2007, he read an international news report about a mass escape from Camp 16, which the report mentioned was near the site of a nuclear test conducted the year before.
No pictures of Camp 16 are believed to have been seen outside the country. But Mr. Stanton had pored over defector sketches of it and combed the map for familiar structures. “I realized I had already noticed the guard posts” on Google Earth the previous year for the nuclear test site, he says.
Mr. Stanton traced what he believed is Camp 16′s boundary, enclosing nearly 300 square miles, and those of other large North Korean prisons and shared them with Mr. Melvin. The fences aren’t easy to follow because they go over mountain ridges, he says. But satellite images often reveal gaps in the vegetation along the fence line, because trees are cleared on either side to prevent people from climbing over.
The project, North Korea Uncovered, can be downloaded here.