Open Government Day Arrives April 7

Several key requirements of the Open Government Directive are due on April 7, turning the day into a critical moment for government transparency. The main materials being released are specialized Open Government Plans that federal agencies are mandated to produce based on stakeholder input. There will also be a document to address federal spending transparency, as well as a review of policies that impede open government efforts.

The plans will state the individual agency’s strategy for improving transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Meanwhile, open government groups are gearing up to evaluate the strategies. Expectations are that the plans will be quite substantive, both in scope of issues addressed and goals being set, at least for the major agencies. At the same time, it is also widely expected that there will be wide variations in the plans, with some being in an advanced state of implementation and others in very early stages. Numerous independent agencies are also developing Open Government Plans, though their obligation to do so under the directive is unclear.

Agencies across the federal government have been collecting input and ideas from the public for weeks through online discussions on their newly launched open government webpages, also required under the directive. The process has elicited hundreds of ideas from the public, with thousands of votes to help agencies prioritize the proposals. Many agencies have described their online discussions around open government as huge successes and announced intentions to keep the dialogue going beyond the launch of the agencies’ plans on April 7.

Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra recently elaborated on the additional content of the upcoming plans during a Senate hearing on government secrecy. In his testimony, Kundra stated that the plans would include details of “internal controls implemented over information quality, including system and process changes, and the integration of these controls within the agency’s existing infrastructure.” Although the spirit of the directive is to make information useful to the public widely accessible, Kundra noted that information controls would also need to exist to protect personally identifiable and security-related information.

Open government organizations are poised to assess the plans as soon as they come out. Working together under the coalition, these organizations are auditing individual agency plans based on preset criteria through a Google Wiki. The criteria for this initial assessment are basic and based on the Open Government Directive requirements, but also allow for additional points to be awarded for agencies that go above and beyond the call of duty.

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) will also produce materials from a review regarding policy impediments to open government. The Open Government Directive required that OIRA, along with the Federal Chief Information Officer and Federal Chief Technology Officer, review existing policies of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The overall purpose of this process is to create an improved policy framework that enables open government. The OIRA policy materials are expected to identify impediments to open government and either propose revisions to eliminate the impediments or clarify interpretation to reduce confusion.

Open government advocates have been calling for policy changes in several areas that would increase government transparency. Many of these recommendations are included in a November 2008 report, Moving Toward a 21st Century Right-to-Know Agenda. Such problems include the lack of resources and accountability for implementation.

Additionally, OMB’s Deputy Director for Management is required to release a long-term comprehensive strategy for federal spending transparency that includes requirements from the Federal Funding Accountability Transparency Act (FFATA) and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The plan will require quarterly reports from agencies on their progress toward improving the quality of federal spending information.

Finally, the Open Government Dashboard on the White House website is also expected to be updated in the near future to include access to all agency Open Government Plans. Currently, the dashboard is only an assessment of whether an agency has completed a task required under the Open Government Directive, and that is likely to remain the case in this update. Ultimately, however, this dashboard is expected to be revised to include aggregate statistics and visualizations that provide an assessment of the state of openness within the federal government.

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