The Great Gov Apps Debate Hits NOAA

The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang has put together probably the best presentation to date of the ideological conflict between government-built mobile applications and industry-built apps that rely on government data.

According to the Weather Gang's report, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials put the kibosh on any government-built weather apps in a post-Christmas memo, citing the large number of high-quality and often-free industry-built apps that use National Weather Service data.

National Weather Service Employees Union director Dan Sobien shot back that the new policy meant the best weather data collection service in the world would be abdicating any power over how most people will see that data. It amounted to, he said, a de facto privatization of a major weather service function.

As longtime observers of this conundrum, we at Nextgov have no good answers.

We've seen government-built apps that clearly waste taxpayer money by re-creating free apps that are already available. We've also seen high-quality apps that the private sector likely couldn't reproduce profitably.

When it comes to paid apps, the question somewhat mirrors Washington's larger spending debate: When is it worth the public paying more for an app so the government can spend less? But, as Sobien said in his letter to NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, there's also a question of performance and morale. Can you ask an organization that's used to being on the cutting edge of technology to ignore the biggest new thing in communications technology and expect its other work not to suffer?