May 24, 2024

Final version of Government Data and the Invisible Hand

Thanks to the hard work of our patient editors at the Yale Journal of Law and Technology, my coauthors and I can now share the final version of our paper about online transparency, Government Data and the Invisible Hand.

If you have read the first version, you know that our paper is informed by a deep disappointment with the current state of the federal government’s Internet presence. A naive viewer, like we once were, might look at the chaos of clunky sites in .gov and entertain doubts about the webmasters who run those sites. But that would be—was, on our part—a mistake. We’re happy to set the record straight today.

Barack Obama’s web team is certainly one of the best that has ever been assembled. His staff did a fantastic job on the campaign site, and produced an also excellent, if slightly less dynamic, transition site at On its way to the White House, however, a team comprised of many of the same people seemed to lose its mojo. The complaints about the new site—slow to be updated, lacking in interactivity—are familiar to observers of other .gov sites throughout the government.

What happened? It’s not plausible to suppose that Obama’s staffers have somehow gotten worse as they have moved from campaign to transition to governance. Instead, they have faced an increasingly stringent and burdensome array of regulations as they have become progressively more official. The transition was a sort of intermediate phase in this respect, and the new team now faces the Presidential Records Act, the Paperwork Reduction Act, and a number of other pre-Internet statutory obligations. This experience teaches that the limitations of the federal web reflect the thicket of rules to which such sites are subject—not the hardworking people who labor under those rules.

One of the most exciting things about the new administration’s approach to online media is the way it seeks to enable federal webmasters to move beyond some of the limitations of dated policies, using their expertise to leverage government data online.

My coauthors and I look forward to continuing to work on these issues. We are humbled to recognize the remarkable reservoir of talent and energy that is being brought to bear on the problem, from both within and beyond government.


  1. Wired did a really nice job covering this in the February issue, explaining several blockades to fast innovation on govenrment sites:

  2. It’s good that there’s finally a bit of transparency with the .gov domains. I must admit that once upon a time they all had a lot to hope for (the state one’s in particular). I think Obama is doing a good job in bringing the government online into the 21st century as opposed to outdated 1995 looking sites.


  3. Nice work. Definitely post this to the Open House Project list (not that I expect the reaction to be much different from last time….).