Government Status: Open
by Sean Moulton, 9/19/2011
Late last week, the administration released a status report on their open government efforts over the past two and half years. Impressive progress has been made because of the hard work of public employees across the federal government.
The report lays out and discusses in detail six main areas of progress, including: Freedom of Information Act, Open Government Initiative, Data and Technology, Spending Disclosure, Classification and Controlled Information, and White House Transparency. Each section explains the efforts of the administration and agencies.
There are numerous concrete examples of open government at work, disclosing more information, empowering citizens, and increasing accountability:
The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration now posts 500 to 10,000 pages of grant documents every day that previously required FOIA requests to access. This means more information on our investments to create a national broadband infrastructure and other communication improvements is available than ever was before.
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) reduced FOIA requests by 42 percent by posting its most requested reports, enforcement actions, and prior FOIA responses.
Hospital performance information now appears in standard Internet search results because of the Department of Health and Human Service’s opening up of data. This means that a person researching hospitals will immediately be able to compare the quality of care provided by the different facilities in their area.
Six federal agencies collaborated to create Recalls.gov, a virtual “one-stop” portal for U.S. product recalls, complete with a mobile phone application, alerts for new recalls, photos of recalled products, and information on what to do with recalled products.
A new dashboard, Paymentaccuracy.gov, shines a light on the hundreds of billions of dollars wasted on improper payments and increases the accountability of agencies, encouraging them to address these problems.
Katherine McFate, President and CEO of OMB Watch, said of the report, “Fully implementing openness policies and integrating new technologies into executive branch operations is a monumental task and the job is far from complete, but this Status Report shows how much progress has been made by the administration and that the culture of many agencies is changing.”
The report shows that administration staff listened to critiques of its open government efforts thus far and responded. The report concludes with a lengthy section on the administration’s plans for making more improvements.
It is very encouraging that the administration took the time to do such an in-depth self-assessment. Many have said, quite correctly, that open government is not a set of tasks, but a process. Open government is about changing how the government operates, and accomplishing that kind of a culture shift requires constant focus and effort. This report indicates that the administration sees the whole open government mission as a “living effort” requiring benchmarking and updates and check-in on efforts to reflect accomplishments, new priorities, and continuing challenges.
A final comment: Given the important information and evaluations contained in the Status Report, it is disappointing that the administration’s communications staff released the report on a Friday afternoon, when media coverage and public attention are at a minimum. It is clear that thousands of people across federal agencies made a tremendous effort to advance the open government agenda. Their work should be recognized and praised. This excellent benchmarking report deserves much broader dissemination to the public than it seems likely to get.