In a recent Washington Post article, Stephen Barr explores how the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is using a wiki to track earmarks in the federal budget. Earmarking is a process by which members of Congress designate money for specific projects, often in their home states or congressional districts.
With the wiki, federal agencies compiled a database of 13,496 earmarks in 10 weeks. In the old days, it would have taken six months to get the information to the OMB.
That’s a great example of the improvement in efficiency that a wiki can bring.
The budget wiki is not as freewheeling as Wikipedia, the sometimes-controversial online encyclopedia. It is the government, after all. For security, federal officials have to ask permission to join; it is not open to the public or Congress.
And a good example of how a wiki fits into the existing landscape of an organization. Security and Permissions are there, and it’s not an open playground for the public. What’s more, it gives people inside OMB a way to work more closely and make better informed decisions that take multiple viewpoints into account:
Karen Evans, who oversees government-wide technology policy at the OMB, views wikis as a way to provide an opportunity “where everybody gets a say” that then leads to “a very informed decision” by officials.
The wiki permits budget officials to work in real time with one another, rather than sort through e-mail chains wending through the government. It allows officials to hold online meetings when time is short or bad weather makes in-person meetings difficult to schedule. It is open around the clock, so federal budget officials may post comments from home at night or on weekends.
This is good for greater communication, handling issues that come up at odd hours faster, and enabling government to work more efficiently.
Then there’s the networking factor. The wiki features a directory of users, with their telephone numbers and e-mail addresses, an important feature in a government where people transfer among agencies or take different jobs every few years.