President Obama signed a directive in his first full day in office committing his Administration to “creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.” He directed the Chief Technology Officer to, within 120 days, create recommendations for an Open Government Directive.
Well, 120 days is May 21st and there’s no Chief Technology Officer. So Beth Noveck, in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, is filling in the breech. When she was a law professor before joining the Obama Administration, she participated in a number of cutting edge approaches to opening up government, so she’s got a passion for this already. I’m sure she’s working with Vivek Kundra, the OMB e-government administrator who is equally passionate about this topic.
To date, there’s been a note to agency officials who already monitor this topic to provide their ideas on greater transparency. This is being done via a membership-restricted government website that was originally created for agency budget officers to communicate with each other. They have until March 6th to provide their ideas.
LATER ADDITION: Here’s the actual note.
After March 6th, a government website will be created for citizens and others to provide their ideas for how government should be more transparent, participative, and collaborative. But that hasn’t stopped others from forging ahead in advance!
The Administration has already undertaken several transparency initiatives, as noted by blogger Chris Dorobek. The most prominent are associated with the Recovery Act, with the creation of www.recovery.gov, as well as agency-level web links tracking Recovery Act monies and projects (see, for example, the HHS Recovery Act webpage).
Also, a number of agency heads are writing their own blogs, including the Director of OMB, Peter Orszag. Other high-visibility bloggers include the White House, the State Department, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Here are some ideas already on the table to expand the Obama efforts:
The Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy Coalition issued a white paper to the Obama Transition team back in November, recommending the creation of a White House Office of Citizen Engagement. While that hasn’t happened, the White House did designate Kate Stanton as the director of citizen participation.
There was a “Transparency Camp” held this past weekend among advocates of greater transparency. One of the participants, David Stephenson, offered a presentation on “Democratizing Data” where the federal role would be to provide raw data feeds of as much data as possible, allowing citizens to create their own mashups of information. This approach was taken by Vivek Kundra when he was the chief technology officer for the District of Columbia (see DC Data Catalog). Interestingly, Stephenson points to experiences in other countries where increased data sharing lowered government administrative costs.
There is a wish list of different transparency ideas published by the Sunlight Foundation, which is a strong advocate of transparency. Some of these are statutory, but some are simple, such as having the president post any signing statements on the White House website 72 hours before he signs a bill.
Still, much of this won’t be easy. There was a great article by Jose Antonio Vargas yesterday in the Washington Post, “Web-Savvy Obama Team Hits Unexpected Bumps,” describing the practical barriers to greater transparency because of existing government laws and policies.
Tags: Beth Noveck, chief technology officer, Chris Dorobek, David Stephenson, democratizing data, director of citizen participation, Janet Napolitano, Jose Antonio Vargas, Kate Stanton, MAX Community, Office of Science and Technology, OMB Director, OMB e-government and technology administrator, Peter Orszag, Peter Orzag, Recovery Act, State Department, transparency, Transparency Camp, Vivek Kundra, Washington Post, www.recovery.gov