How GitHub Helps You Hack The Government

Robert McMillan | Wired | January 9, 2013

On April 9th of last year, someone called Iceeey proposed a change to an obscure document written by the federal government’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The document wasn’t that important. It was a form for transit subsidy requests. And the change was tiny, a typo fix. Iceeey suggested the agency change the line “Daily rountrip cost” to “Daily roundtrip cost.” But this small request was a very big deal.

For the first time, the Consumer Protection Bureau was accepting a direct change to one of its internal documents not from someone inside the agency but from an average citizen somewhere across the country. The document had been published on the software code collaboration website GitHub, with the express idea that it could be hacked, commented on, and improved in public just like open source software.

“Power to the people!” Iceeey added. “We are the 99%!” With this simple bug fix — called a “pull request” in GitHub parlance — a longstanding wall between the government and its citizens crumbled. “That was a really awesome moment, because — in as much as it’s old hat for us in the open source movement to consider code as ephemeral and that it’s always changing — seeing that in the context of government is a really huge shift,” says Brian Doll, a marketing manager with GitHub...