Ever since Open Government Day – the 120 day deadline in the Open Government Directive when agencies had to release Open Government Plans – I’ve been pouring over them hoping to get a better understanding of how openness is going to be implemented. If we are to judge government openness by the barrage of documents we received last Wednesday, then we open government advocates ought to be very happy! But what are these documents made of, anyway? A word cloud illustrates it quite well – all the buzzwords that you would expect: Information, government, data, open, public.
However, most of the content within the Open Government Plans (at least the ones that I’ve had time to review) are largely aspirational. Each of them reviews the tenets of the OGD, and commit to transparency, collaboration, and participation, but lack the substance and details that will achieve each of these goals. Buzzwords dominate promises to “explore” or “experiment” towards reaching a goal. Agencies are working to plan openness, hoping to explore ideas with the public, and ready to become more transparent – but we’re not seeing the follow-through that we had hoped for in terms of actionable plans or lists of useful data sets the agency will be releasing to the public. Still, one part of each plan tended to be more fleshed out than the rest of the plan: the flagship initiative.
The OGD required agencies to describe at least one new initiative that they would begin implementing soon, and some agencies have already started their efforts towards these flagships. Because of the immediacy of the initiatives, they provide a glimpse of how each agency sees openness within their mission and how they plan to get there. Some are very substantial, providing the timelines and planning necessary to ensure that the project is ready to get underway – or in some cases, are already launched (link).
Flagship initiatives are probably the best indicator of how an agency is approaching the mandates of the Open Government Directive. They are intended to be the most concrete and specific part of the Plans – and typically, they are the only specific and developed plan for new steps towards openness. This is the road that will take agencies from idea to goal.
Some of the flagships are quite impressive, like the DOJ’s FOIA Dashboard, which will centralize and present data about FOIA, while others seem aspirational rather than ready to implement. For example, the Treasury Department hopes to become mostly paperless [link] but doesn’t provide an executable plan or indications of how they hope to achieve that goal. The four paragraphs on their open government flagship barely manage to explain the scope of the project.
Many flagship initiatives follow the general dashboard model: making data about government spending more accessible to the public using web tools and graphical presentation. OSTP (link) will be launching an R&D dashboard, and DOJ (link) has proposed centralizing FOIA data from 92 agencies as a dashboard. Centralizing this data into a dashboard allows easy comparisons between agencies and from year to year. Similarly, the Department of Energy (link) will be releasing energy information for the public in a wiki-style format, alongside educational initiatives.
Others propose opening processes that have not been open to the public, especially in technological ways. The NASA initiative (link) to collaborate with the public in developing their software, as part of an Open Source Software Development Program, will address a problem that’s widely addressed in the geek-oriented side of the open government community – it’s inordinately difficult to try to help out in technology oriented ways. Similarly, OSTP will be starting a “Geeks for Wonks” program to connect technology students and agencies with projects. Creating these avenues for skilled engagement – rather than simply asking for ideas – has the potential to engage those hoping to help who have thus far been shut out.
The most notable success? Agencies are starting to build career champions for transparency and for the use of technology within agencies. Technology can enable the transparency, participation, and collaboration that will make government more effective.
Each of these initiatives has the potential to change the way that agencies do business. That is the intention of the OGD – to change the way that the government interacts with citizens, how agencies collaborate internally, and how much information is available to the public. Clearly, this culture change has been embraced in many agencies, but not everyone has had the time to develop substantive plans. The most promising ones are well developed and are going to make information available, streamline performance, or engage citizens. I have every hope that even the most ambitious of flagships can become a reality, as agencies move forward with their Open Government Plans. I hope that next time around, the plans will have more substance – more concrete, achievable initiatives to go with the grand plans full of buzzwords.
â€œOpen source and open government are not the same,â€ Iâ€™ve been reading recently. When discussing the role of open standards in open government transparency projects, Bob Caudill at Adobe, is concerned that open source and open standards are being conflated. He likes open standards just fine, but:
â€œOpen standards are driving for interoperability between systems or applications, while, the goal of open source is to make high-quality software available to the market free of charge.â€
As an open source advocate, Iâ€™m surprised. What, I have to wonder, is so threatening about open source? Why the effort to take open source off the table? Iâ€™ve written on the topic before, and I didnâ€™t think this was controversial â€” but apparently I was wrong. Andrea DiMaio at Gartner is more pointed:
While they both agree on the importance of open standards (although transparency also seems to annoy DiMaio), they also remind us that tools, proprietary or open source, are a means to an end. An open standard is an open standard, whether implemented by an open source project or a proprietary one. Whatâ€™s important, they insist, is more transparency, collaboration, and participation. Open source is immaterial at best, and a distraction at worst.
Theyâ€™re right, of course, that open standards are crucial to ensuring meaningful transparency in government. It does not follow, however, that this precludes a role for open source.Â Open source software is an invaluable tool â€” one of many â€” to approach all three goals (transparency, collaboration, participation) of the Open Government Directive. Itâ€™s not about open source software specifically, although the software helps. Itâ€™s about the process that open source projects use to create good software. Because the open source development process requires real collaboration, tangible progress towards a goal, and the participation of a broad community of users and developers, itâ€™s an excellent mechanism for getting citizens involved in the work of government.
DiMaio couldnâ€™t disagree more. Referring to Nat Torkingtonâ€™s idea of using the open source development model to improve transparency projects:
â€œâ€¦there is a fundamental flaw in this line of thought. Open source projects cluster a number of developers who collaborate on an equal footing to develop a product they are jointly responsible for, as a community.
â€œGovernment does not have the luxury of doing so. An agency publishing crime statistics or weather forecast or traffic information is ultimately accountable for what it publishes.â€
I couldnâ€™t disagree more. Again, DiMaio and Caudill misunderstand how the open source process works and what it can contribute. The trouble, I think, is with a too-narrow understanding of what participation and collaboration might mean, and a similarly narrow view of what the open source development process has to offer.
The goal of open source is much more than just making no-cost software, as Caudill suggests. Itâ€™s about producing better software through a process of inclusion and rough consensus. The source code is free of charge largely because that is the best way to create a large community around the project, itâ€™s not the final goal. And while some open source projects function better than others, they are not, as a rule, unaccountable. In order for the projects to succeed, they must be highly accountable to their community.Â Further, many open source projects have commercial ventures (like my company, Red Hat) that live or die by their success, which makes them extremely accountable. So to say that the government cannot rely on open source software or the open source process because it is unaccountable is just not true. We know this to be the case because you can find the government using open source software in the Army, the NSA, the Census, the White House, and just about everywhere else. So thereâ€™s no reason to think that open source process cannot inform and support an open data project, as DiMaio suggests.
Setting accountability to the side, the more interesting conversation is how open source can bring some unique benefits to open government, unavailable any other way.
If you look at the outstanding work of pro-transparency organizations like the Sunlight Foundation, govtrack.us, RECAP, and others, nearly all are using open source and the open source development model. Itâ€™s not, as DiMaio and Caudill suggest, because theyâ€™re naive ideologues who are confused as to the meaning of â€œopenâ€. These are smart people doing serious work. Theyâ€™re using open source because itâ€™s the best way to collect a large number of contributors around a common problem. Theyâ€™re using open source because the transparency of the process and software makes their work credible. Theyâ€™re using open source because they believe that free access to government data means free access to the tools that make that data useful.
The alternative is closed, proprietary tools, which do little to further the transparency goals. RECAP, for example, had a difficult time understanding the US Courtsâ€™ closed PACER system, and had to do a lot of difficult reverse-engineering to work with it effectively. The job would have been significantly easier if they had access to the PACER software source code. Fortunately, because RECAP is an open source project, their hard work making PACER usable is now available to everyone. So to dismiss open source as irrelevant to the crucial work of making government data available and valuable to the private citizen, and the even more important work of encouraging a collaboration between government and its citizen, is deeply misguided.
Again, even though data transparency seems to annoy DiMaio, I think thereâ€™s good reason for the tremendous transparency effort the administration and the private sector have brought to bear. First, data transparency is a relatively simple problem to solve. Itâ€™s easy to publish data on the Internet, and thereâ€™s a tremendous amount of value to be extracted. So while itâ€™s only a part of the challenge â€” indeed, is only one leg of the Open Government Directive â€” itâ€™s an easy win for both government and its citizens.
But DiMaio is correct that open government is about much more than just data, so letâ€™s generalize this further. We could understand open government as an opportunity to increase the quality of interaction between citizens and their government through collaboration. â€œThe government is not a vending machine,â€ as Tim Oâ€™Reilly paraphased Frank DiGiammarino of the National Academy of Public Administration, â€œwhich we kick when it doesnâ€™t work right.â€ Instead of treating government as a black box, we should treat our government as the place where we, in the public and private sector, come together, to solve problems as a group. This is why we refer to â€œgovernment as a platform.â€ Yes, as DiMaio says, each agency is responsible for its own output. But that doesnâ€™t mean the public has no stake. Precisely because we want to hold agencies to a higher standard, we must provide a means of collaboration and participation.
The trouble is, thereâ€™s a lot more of us than there is of them. How can one agency effectively collaborate with 300 million constituents? Likewise, how can an agency effectively communicate with that many people? One of the reasons the open government movement is so preoccupied with technology and the Internet is that they represent a solution to this problem. For the first time, the government and its citizens have the means to work effectively at this scale. There are all kinds of tools for this: social networking, blogging, data.gov, the Ideascale Open Government sites, and so on. One of those tools, the one that is most interesting to me, is the open source development process.
Note that I didnâ€™t say open source software. Although I love the software, and could talk for days about why the government should be using more of it, itâ€™s the process that creates this software that is most valuable to the goals of collaboration and participation.
In the last 40 years, open source software communities have learned how to effectively solve complex tasks with large, far-flung, geographically dispersed communities. Why wouldnâ€™t we take these methods, and apply them to the task of creating a better government? As I mentioned earlier, Nat Torkington suggested using the open source process to improve data quality. The NASA CoLab project uses open source software and the open source development process alongside other collaborative tools to get researchers from the public and private sector to work together. The Defense Information Systems Agency is using the forge.mil project to encourage collaboration between the DOD and its contractors â€” not just for software, but for testing, certification, and project management. The Apps for Democracy, Apps for Army, and Apps for America contests are all attempts to harness the collective intelligence of citizens and government to solve common problems using the open source model â€” not just building tools, but building the means to collaborate on top of open tools, like Open 311 and DataMasher.
Both DiMaio and Caudill make the mistake of believing that open source is about making cheap bits. Instead, itâ€™s a blueprint for effective collaboration on a massive scale. Advocates for open source in government, like me and my friends at Open Source for America, arenâ€™t just talking about open source tools, although those are also useful. We believe that the open source development model has a concrete contribution to make to the open government movement â€” and those who dismiss open source as irrelevant donâ€™t realize just how open a government can be.
What if we were able to â€œcoverâ€ live events in a new way using government data that weâ€™re able to compile and connect it to political events and personas of the day?
Today weâ€™re going to take this idea to the next step by beginning to connect government data such as campaign contributions or lobbyist meetings to a political event in real-time. As Republican and Democratic leaders come together to debate health care in a public forum, Sunlight is going to provide an alternative to the mainstream mediaâ€™s coverage. In a replicable pilot we are calling Sunlight Live, our team will connect data such as the aforementioned lobbying contributions or â€œrevolving doorâ€connections the meetingâ€™s participants may have, and put them right next to the video feed, as any particular politician is speaking.
We think Sunlight can offer a unique live perspective on the debate in the midst of the media frenzy, by focusing not on the merits of health care, but on the money, connections, and influence data to which we have created access. In addition to displaying data from Sunlight and its granteesâ€™ projects, our staff will once again be live blogging, facilitating online conversation via Twitter, and engaging the open government community in research as the debate unfolds. We donâ€™t yet know exactly what weâ€™ll need or what will work best â€¦ but thatâ€™s the point.
Weâ€™ll be getting things started at 10 a.m. with the beginning of the meeting. Hope youâ€™ll join us!
Cowan-Sharp shares what inspired them and how they did it.
Why did you create OpenGov Tracker?
In its own way, the public consultation process happening on IdeaScale right now is a historic activity, but so few people know about it. We thought that a single access point would give a sense of the participation on all the different sites, a window into the discussions happening, build some excitement, and inspire people to participate. We also thought maybe a bit of healthy competition would emerge between the different agencies, spurring additional participation. Finally, we wanted to call out and celebrate the ideas of those people who have made valuable contributions, so we promoted the most popular ideas across all agencies.
What’s the development story behind it?
When we realized the IdeaScale site had an API, we grabbed the ideas for the NASA site and started playing around. Seeing that each idea object included counts of comments, votes and lots of other information, we realized it would be easy to pull out those basic stats, calculate a few additional ones and aggregate them for all the agencies. So, we started building. The way the sites are set up, you have to register separately for an API key for each of the agencies, which wasn’t so bad– but of course then it turned out that although each agency has the same set of nominal categories, each is represented by a different category ID in the backend. This makes sense when you realize that IdeaScale is used to supporting multiple, completely stove-piped clients. But that was a fun hour or so of tediously building an index to match up the category names with each agency’s numeric category IDs.
As the number of ideas started going up, we realized that our numbers looked wrong. Upon closer inspection it turned out that the API was truncating result sets at 50. We were worried that as soon as any agency had a category that went above 50 ideas, the site would basically be useless. But IdeaScale was really helpful, and lifted the limit for us. We really appreciate that.
Of course a few agencies chose their own route instead of IdeaScale, so we haven’t included them. I’m of two minds on this. I think it’s great if agencies have their own vision for things and do something different and unique to them, since it shows they’re interested. At the same time, as a developer, it really helps us promote your stuff when there’s a common interface for accessing it. It would be neat to see us collectively put some thought into common interfaces, where feasible, for data objects on government sites and projects.
I always fail to appreciate how time consuming presentation is. Pulling out the data was much easier and faster than tweaking the layout and style. But it’s important you do that well, or obviously no one will stay on the site long enough to look at those numbers. Thankfully, Robbie’s pretty good at that part!
The site is built in using Python with Tornado as the web framework. We’re in the process of adding in MongoDB as a backend data store. It took about two evenings and two full days before we deployed it.
What features do you plan on adding in the future?
Right now the site focuses a lot on numbers. We’re working on a few additions that will bring out more of the actual content to highlight the diversity of contributions. I love looking over the tags and the titles, and appreciating how different the ideas are, how different the focus of each agency is, and how each one has its own microcosm of terminology, challenges and touchy issues. It’s actually really educational to scan the lists of ideas and learn what’s happening in the different agencies.
When we first released the site, it was just what we call a “tinyhack,” a quick and dirty project to get something useful up and running. We weren’t even saving the data. But a lot of people have asked for the ability to look at contributions over time, so now we’re growing up the code a little bit, adding a proper data store on the backend. That will also enable us to easily display trend lines, pull out more content, etc.
But there’s only another 25 days to go, so we need to optimize value provided and time to deployment. That said, we’ll make sure the data continues to be available after the consultation process is over so more fun stuff can be done by those who want to.
On the heels of the Open Government Memo of January 21st, 2009, the Obama Administration has issued the Open Government Directive. The Directive tells agencies what they must do to meet the expectations set by the Memo. The directive names many deadlines for agency compliance, most of them around reducing FOIA backlogs and increasing the amount of agency data released to the public. This isnâ€™t surprising, since the Memo names transparency, collaboration, and participation as the guiding principles. Transparency is the easiest to articulate and implement â€” just get the data out there in a useful form. Josh Taubererâ€™s Open Data is Civic Capital: Best Practices for â€œOpen Government Dataâ€ is an excellent handbook for doing this. If you want to track agenciesâ€™ progress, the Sunlight Labs folks have produced the outstanding Open Watcher.
Whatâ€™s most interesting to me, and my friends at Open Source for America, though, are the more ambiguous orders. Although the Directive does not use the phrase â€˜open source softwareâ€™ at all, many of the principles and methodologies described are obvious references to open source. Many of these orders stand out as opportunities for open source developers, in the public and private sector, to demonstrate how our development model can help the Administration also make good on the last two principles: collaboration and participation. As Macon Phillips, the White House New Media Director said, â€œOpen Source isâ€¦ the best form of civic participation.â€
â€œEach agency shall identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets and register those data sets via Data.govâ€ (p.2)
This is a wonderful opportunity for open source developers to demonstrate the power of citizen participation through software. The Administration has taken a great risk by pushing this data to the public. There are all kinds of reasons to not do it: privacy concerns, security issues, and the risk-averse culture in most of these organizations. Despite the instructions to be careful with citizensâ€™ privacy, and the reminder to be sensitive to security issues, thereâ€™s still a chance that something could go wrong â€” plenty of reason to not follow through with this exercise. We need to help the Administration prove that this was a worthwhile cause. Just as we showed the power of citizen programmers in Apps for Democracy and Apps for America, we need to take these data sets and make them useful to the American public.
â€œThe Deputy Director for Management at OMB, the Federal Chief Information Officer, and the Federal Chief Technology Officer will establish a working group that focuses on transparency, accountability, participation, and collaboration within the Federal Government. This group, with senior level representation from program and management offices throughout the Government, will serve several critical functions, including:
Providing a forum to share best practices on innovative ideas to promote transparency, including system and process solutions for information collection, aggregation, validation, and dissemination;
Coordinating efforts to implement existing mandates for Federal spending transparency, including the Federal Funding Accountability Transparency Act and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act; and
Providing a forum to share best practices on innovative ideas to promote participation and collaboration, including how to experiment with new technologies, take advantage of the expertise and insight of people both inside and outside the Federal Government, and form high-impact collaborations with researchers, the private sector, and civil society.â€ (p.5)
Now hereâ€™s a working group I would like to speak with very much. If you read the language of the third subsection, itâ€™s amazing how many words you have to use to not say the words â€œopen sourceâ€: experiment with new technologies, using expertise inside and outside the government, high-impact collaborations with many communities of useâ€¦ theyâ€™re all but begging to create open source software projects to support the release of this government data.
In this â€œforum for best practicesâ€ on open data initiatives, you can imagine how useful a recommendation of open source software might be. You can even imagine the working group recommending government open source projects to help handle data that may be in strange government-specific formats.
60 days â€” February 6, 2010
â€œEach agency shall create an Open Government Webpage located at http://www.[agency].gov/open to serve as the gateway for agency activities related to the Open Government Directiveâ€ (p.2)
â€œThe Federal Chief Information Officer and the Federal Chief Technology Officer shall create an Open Government Dashboard on www.whitehouse.gov/open. The Open Government Dashboard will make available each agencyâ€™s Open Government Plan, together with aggregate statistics and visualizations designed to provide an assessment of the state of open government in the Executive Branch and progress over time toward meeting the deadlines for action outlined in this Directive.â€ (p.5)
Of course, if an agency is writing new software to support these new â€œ/openâ€ areas, Iâ€™d like to see that software made available under a open license. If there are any clever data analysis or visualization tools, those should be licensed as open source software, as well. That way, citizens would have the opportunity to help the agency with their own disclosures, and agencies could more easily share tools with each other.
90 days â€” March 8, 2010
â€œThe Deputy Director for Management at OMB will issue, through separate guidance or as part of any planned comprehensive management guidance, a framework for how agencies can use challenges, prizes, and other incentive-backed strategies to find innovative or cost-effective solutions to improving open government.â€ (p.5)
This is a strangely oblique reference to Vivek Kundraâ€™s Apps for Democracy project when he was CTO in Washington, DC, and the national-scale follow-on, Apps for America. Both of these contests asked that submissions be provided under OSI-approved licenses. This is important to keep these projects going. If contestantâ€™s software is under a proprietary license, there is no momentum behind the contest, since nobody can contribute to it after the fact. You might as well hold no contest at all, and instead just bid the work out to a contractor.
120 days â€” April 7, 2010
â€œEach agency shall develop and publish on its Open Government Webpage an Open Government Plan that will describe how it will improve transparency and integrate public participation and collaboration into its activities. Additional details on the required content of this plan are attached. Each agencyâ€™s plan shall be updated every two years.â€ (p.4)
I would hope very much that these plans for additional public participation and collaboration include invitations to open source developers who would like to help an agency build tools that make them function more transparently and efficiently.
â€œThe Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), in consultation with the Federal Chief Information Officer and the Federal Chief Technology Officer, will review existing OMB policies, such as Paperwork Reduction Act guidance and privacy guidance, to identify impediments to open government and to the use of new technologies and, where necessary, issue clarifying guidance and/or propose revisions to such policies, to promote greater openness in government.â€ (p.6)
I hope that this review would include an examination of FACA implementation guidelines, which is understood by many to prevent open source developers from directly participating with some Federal agencies, for fear of having offered the explicitly prohibited â€œvolunteer help.” We believe this isnâ€™t the case, and it would be great if OIRA published some clarifying language. If they were to provide an interpretation of OMB Circular 130-A that ensured it was safe for agencies to create open source software without running afoul of procurement regulations, that would be wonderful.
So hereâ€™s a tremendous opportunity for the open source community. We have been given an early Christmas gift: a pretty clear path for more open source software and (perhaps more importantly) more government-sponsored open source projects inside each agency. If you want to help take advantage of this opportunity, you can sign up at Open Source for America and join a working group. Youâ€™ll be glad you did.
A hearty thanks the Heather West of CDT and Melanie Chernoff of Red Hat for their invaluable comments.
The three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration are at the heart of this directive. Transparency promotes accountability. Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise to government initiatives. Collaboration improves the effectiveness of government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the federal government, across levels of government, and between the government and private institutions.
Full text of the White House’s ‘Open Government Directive’ sent to the head of every federal department and agency, instructing agencies “to take specific actions to open their operations to the public.”
MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES
FROM: Peter R. Orszag Director
SUBJECT: Open Government Directive
In the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, issued on January 21, 2009, the President instructed the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to issue an Open Government Directive. Responding to that instruction, this memorandum is intended to direct executive departments and agencies to take specific actions to implement the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration set forth in the Presidentâ€™s Memorandum. This Directive was informed by recommendations from the Federal Chief Technology Officer, who solicited public comment through the White House Open Government Initiative.
The three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government. Transparency promotes accountability by providing the public with information about what the Government is doing. Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise so that their government can make policies with the benefit of information that is widely dispersed in society. Collaboration improves the effectiveness of Government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the Federal Government, across levels of government, and between the Government and private institutions.
This Open Government Directive establishes deadlines for action. But because of the presumption of openness that the President has endorsed, agencies are encouraged to advance their open government initiatives well ahead of those deadlines. In addition to the steps delineated in this memorandum, Attorney General Eric Holder earlier this year issued new guidelines for agencies with regard to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). With those guidelines, the Attorney General reinforced the principle that openness is the Federal Governmentâ€™s default position for FOIA issues.
This memorandum requires executive departments and agencies to take the following steps toward the goal of creating a more open government:
1. Publish Government Information Online
To increase accountability, promote informed participation by the public, and create economic opportunity, each agency shall take prompt steps to expand access to information by making it available online in open formats. With respect to information, the presumption shall be in favor of openness (to the extent permitted by law and subject to valid privacy, confidentiality, security, or other restrictions).
a. Agencies shall respect the presumption of openness by publishing information online (in addition to any other planned or mandated publication methods) and by preserving and maintaining electronic information, consistent with the Federal Records Act and other applicable law and policy. Timely publication of information is an essential component of transparency. Delays should not be viewed as an inevitable and insurmountable consequence of high demand.
b. To the extent practicable and subject to valid restrictions, agencies should publish information online in an open format that can be retrieved, downloaded, indexed, and searched by commonly used web search applications. An open format is one that is platform independent, machine readable, and made available to the public without restrictions that would impede the re-use of that information.
c. To the extent practical and subject to valid restrictions, agencies should proactively use modern technology to disseminate useful information, rather than waiting for specific requests under FOIA.
d. Within 45 days, each agency shall identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets (see attachment section 3.a.i) and register those data sets via Data.gov. These must be data sets not previously available online or in a downloadable format.
e. Within 60 days, each agency shall create an Open Government Webpage located at HYPERLINKhttp://www.[agency].gov/open to serve as the gateway for agency activities related to the Open Government Directive and shall maintain and update that webpage in a timely fashion.
f. Each Open Government Webpage shall incorporate a mechanism for the public to:
i. Give feedback on and assessment of the quality of published information;â€¨
ii. Provide input about which information to prioritize for publication; and â€¨
iii. Provide input on the agencyâ€™s Open Government Plan (see 3.a.).
g. Each agency shall respond to public input received on its Open Government Webpage on a regular basis.
h. Each agency shall publish its annual Freedom of Information Act Report in an open format on its Open Government Webpage in addition to any other planned dissemination methods.
i. Each agency with a significant pending backlog of outstanding Freedom of Information requests shall take steps to reduce any such backlog by ten percent each year.
j. Each agency shall comply with guidance on implementing specific Presidential open government initiatives, such as Data.gov, eRulemaking, IT Dashboard, Recovery.gov, and USAspending.gov.
2. Improve the Quality of Government Information
To improve the quality of government information available to the public, senior leaders should make certain that the information conforms to OMB guidance on information quality and that adequate systems and processes are in place within the agencies to promote such conformity.
a. Within 45 days, each agency, in consultation with OMB, shall designate a high-level senior official to be accountable for the quality and objectivity of, and internal controls over, the Federal spending information publicly disseminated through such public venues as USAspending.gov or other similar websites. The official shall participate in the agencyâ€™s Senior Management Council, or similar governance structure, for the agency-wide internal control assessment pursuant to the Federal Managersâ€™ Financial Integrity Act.
b. Within 60 days, the Deputy Director for Management at OMB will issue, through separate guidance or as part of any planned comprehensive management guidance, a framework for the quality of Federal spending information publicly disseminated through such public venues as USAspending.gov or other similar websites. The framework shall require agencies to submit plans with details of the internal controls implemented over information quality, including system and process changes, and the integration of these controls within the agencyâ€™s existing infrastructure. An assessment will later be made as to whether additional guidance on implementing OMB guidance on information quality is necessary to cover other types of government information disseminated to the public.
c. Within 120 days, the Deputy Director for Management at OMB will issue, through separate guidance or as part of any planned comprehensive management guidance, a longer-term comprehensive strategy for Federal spending transparency, including the Federal Funding Accountability Transparency Act and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. This guidance will identify the method for agencies to report quarterly on their progress toward improving their information quality.
3. Create and Institutionalize a Culture of Open Government
To create an unprecedented and sustained level of openness and accountability in every agency, senior leaders should strive to incorporate the values of transparency, participation, and collaboration into the ongoing work of their agency. Achieving a more open government will require the various professional disciplines within the Government â€“ such as policy, legal, procurement, finance, and technology operations â€“ to work together to define and to develop open government solutions. Integration of various disciplines facilitates organization-wide and lasting change in the way that Government works.
a. Within 120 days, each agency shall develop and publish on its Open Government Webpage an Open Government Plan that will describe how it will improve transparency and integrate public participation and collaboration into its activities. Additional details on the required content of this plan are attached. Each agencyâ€™s plan shall be updated every two years.
b. Within 60 days, the Federal Chief Information Officer and the Federal Chief Technology Officer shall create an Open Government Dashboard on HYPERLINK “http://www.whitehouse.gov/open”www.whitehouse.gov/open. The Open Government Dashboard will make available each agencyâ€™s Open Government Plan, together with aggregate statistics and visualizations designed to provide an assessment of the state of open government in the Executive Branch and progress over time toward meeting the deadlines for action outlined in this Directive.
c. Within 45 days, the Deputy Director for Management at OMB, the Federal Chief Information Officer, and the Federal Chief Technology Officer will establish a working group that focuses on transparency, accountability, participation, and collaboration within the Federal Government. This group, with senior level representation from program and management offices throughout the Government, will serve several critical functions, including:
i. Providing a forum to share best practices on innovative ideas to promote transparency, including system and process solutions for information collection, aggregation, validation, and dissemination;Â
ii. Coordinating efforts to implement existing mandates for Federal spending transparency, including the Federal Funding Accountability Transparency Act and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act; and
iii. Providing a forum to share best practices on innovative ideas to promote participation and collaboration, including how to experiment with new technologies, take advantage of the expertise and insight of people both inside and outside the Federal Government, and form high-impact collaborations with researchers, the private sector, and civil society.
d. Within 90 days, the Deputy Director for Management at OMB will issue, through separate guidance or as part of any planned comprehensive management guidance, a framework for how agencies can use challenges, prizes, and other incentive-backed strategies to find innovative or cost-effective solutions to improving open government.
Create an Enabling Policy Framework for Open Government
Emerging technologies open new forms of communication between a government and the people. It is important that policies evolve to realize the potential of technology for open government.
a. Within 120 days, the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), in consultation with the Federal Chief Information Officer and the Federal Chief Technology Officer, will review existing OMB policies, such as Paperwork Reduction Act guidance and privacy guidance, to identify impediments to open government and to the use of new technologies and, where necessary, issue clarifying guidance and/or propose revisions to such policies, to promote greater openness in government.
Nothing in this Directive shall be construed to supersede existing requirements for review and clearance of pre-decisional information by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to legislative, budgetary, administrative, and regulatory materials. Moreover, nothing in this Directive shall be construed to suggest that the presumption of openness precludes the legitimate protection of information whose release would threaten national security, invade personal privacy, breach confidentiality, or damage other genuinely compelling interests.
If you have any questions regarding this memorandum, please direct them to “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org”email@example.com or call Nicholas Fraser, Information Policy Branch, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget at (202) 395-3785.
Open Government Plan
1. Formulating the Plan: Your agencyâ€™s Open Government Plan is the public roadmap that details how your agency will incorporate the principles of the Presidentâ€™s January 21, 2009, Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government into the core mission objectives of your agency. The Plan should reflect the input of (a) senior policy, legal, and technology leadership in your agency and (b) the general public and open government experts. It should detail the specific actions that your agency will undertake and the timeline on which it will do so.
2. Publishing the Plan: Consistent with the deadlines set forth in this Directive, the Plan should be published online on the agencyâ€™s Open Government Webpage in an open format that enables the public to download, analyze, and visualize any information and data in the Plan.
3. Components of the Plan:
a. Transparency: Your agencyâ€™s Open Government Plan should explain in detail how your agency will improve transparency. It should describe steps the agency will take to conduct its work more openly and publish its information online, including any proposed changes to internal management and administrative policies to improve transparency. Specifically, as part of your Plan to enhance information dissemination, your agency should describe how it is currently meeting its legal information dissemination obligations, and how it plans to improve its existing information dissemination practices by providing:
i. A strategic action plan for transparency that (1) inventories agency high-value information currently available for download; (2) fosters the publicâ€™s use of this information to increase public knowledge and promote public scrutiny of agency services; and (3) identifies high value information not yet available and establishes a reasonable timeline for publication online in open formats with specific target dates. High-value information is information that can be used to increase agency accountability and responsiveness; improve public knowledge of the agency and its operations; further the core mission of the agency; create economic opportunity; or respond to need and demand as identified through public consultation.
ii. In cases where the agency provides public information maintained in electronic format, a plan for timely publication of the underlying data. This underlying data should be in an open format and as granular as possible, consistent with statutory responsibilities and subject to valid privacy, confidentiality, security, or other restrictions. Your agency should also identify key audiences for its information and their needs, and endeavor to publish high-value information for each of those audiences in the most accessible forms and formats. In particular, information created or commissioned by the Government for educational use by teachers or students and made available online should clearly demarcate the publicâ€™s right to use, modify, and distribute the information.
iii. Details as to how your agency is complying with transparency initiative guidance such as Data.gov, eRulemaking, IT Dashboard, Recovery.gov, and USAspending.gov. Where gaps exist, the agency should detail the steps the agency is taking and the timing to meet the requirements for each initiative.
iv. Details of proposed actions to be taken, with clear milestones, to inform the public of significant actions and business of your agency, such as through agency public meetings, briefings, press conferences on the Internet, and periodic national town hall meetings.
v. A link to a publicly available website that shows how your agency is meeting its existing records management requirements. These requirements serve as the foundation for your agencyâ€™s records management program, which includes such activities as identifying and scheduling all electronic records, and ensuring the timely transfer of all permanently valuable records to the National Archives.
vi. A link to a website that includes (1) a description of your staffing, organizational structure, and process for analyzing and responding to FOIA requests; (2) an assessment of your agencyâ€™s capacity to analyze, coordinate, and respond to such requests in a timely manner, together with proposed changes, technological resources, or reforms that your agency determines are needed to strengthen your response processes; and (3) if your agency has a significant backlog, milestones that detail how your agency will reduce its pending backlog of outstanding FOIA requests by at least ten percent each year. Providing prompt responses to FOIA requests keeps the public apprised of specific informational matters they seek.
vii. A description or link to a webpage that describes your staffing, organizational structure, and process for analyzing and responding to Congressional requests for information.
viii. A link to a publicly available webpage where the public can learn about your agencyâ€™s declassification programs, learn how to access declassified materials, and provide input about what types of information should be prioritized for declassification, as appropriate. Declassification of government information that no longer needs protection, in accordance with established procedures, is essential to the free flow of information.
b. Participation: To create more informed and effective policies, the Federal Government should promote opportunities for the public to participate throughout the decision-making process. Your agencyâ€™s Open Government Plan should explain in detail how your agency will improve participation, including steps your agency will take to revise its current practices to increase opportunities for public participation in and feedback on the agencyâ€™s core mission activities. The specific details should include proposed changes to internal management and administrative policies to improve participation.
i. The Plan should include descriptions of and links to appropriate websites where the public can engage in existing participatory processes of your agency.
ii. The Plan should include proposals for new feedback mechanisms, including innovative tools and practices that create new and easier methods for public engagement.
c. Collaboration: Your agencyâ€™s Open Government Plan should explain in detail how your agency will improve collaboration, including steps the agency will take to revise its current practices to further cooperation with other Federal and non-Federal governmental agencies, the public, and non-profit and private entities in fulfilling the agencyâ€™s core mission activities. The specific details should include proposed changes to internal management and administrative policies to improve collaboration.
i. The Plan should include proposals to use technology platforms to improve collaboration among people within and outside your agency.
ii. The Plan should include descriptions of and links to appropriate websites where the public can learn about existing collaboration efforts of your agency.
iii. The Plan should include innovative methods, such as prizes and competitions, to obtain ideas from and to increase collaboration with those in the private sector, non-profit, and academic communities.
d. Flagship Initiative: Each agencyâ€™s Open Government Plan should describe at least one specific, new transparency, participation, or collaboration initiative that your agency is currently implementing (or that will be implemented before the next update of the Open Government Plan). That description should include:
i. An overview of the initiative, how it addresses one or more of the three openness principles, and how it aims to improve agency operations;
ii. An explanation of how your agency engages or plans to engage the public and maintain dialogue with interested parties who could contribute innovative ideas to the initiative;
iii. If appropriate, identification of any partners external to your agency with whom you directly collaborate on the initiative;
iv. An account of how your agency plans to measure improved transparency, participation, and/or collaboration through this initiative; and
v. An explanation of the steps your agency is taking to make the initiative sustainable and allow for continued improvement.
e. Public and Agency Involvement: Your agencyâ€™s Open Government Plan should include, but not be limited to, the requirements set forth in this attachment. Extensive public and employee engagement should take place during the formation of this plan, which should lead to the incorporation of relevant and useful ideas developed in that dialogue. Public engagement should continue to be part of your agencyâ€™s periodic review and modification of its plan. Your agency should respond to public feedback on a regular basis.
Fix It?: We discuss what’s working and what’s not in government with retired career fed Stephen Buckley and collaboration consultant Brian Drake. Drake is planning the Government 2.0 #FAIL workshop, while Buckley, who in the ’90s managed a 1,000 member “Reinventing Government” listserv, is working on an unconference around the forthcoming Open Government Directive. More Gov 2.0 Radio Â»