Administration and Global Partners Forge Ahead with Open Government Agenda
The launch of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) on Sept. 20 marks a new era for open government in the United States and abroad. The national action plans released by the OGP founding countries offer the potential to create more responsive governments that better serve the needs and aspirations of their peoples.
President Obama envisioned the partnership a year ago in his address to the United Nations, when he called on countries to make "specific commitments to promote transparency; to fight corruption; to energize civic engagement; [and] to leverage new technologies." The initiative was introduced to the world as the OGP in July, with seven partner countries agreeing to develop plans to strengthen open government in their nations.
At the formal OGP launch on Sept. 20, the U.S. and its seven partners released their plans and endorsed a joint Open Government Declaration outlining their principles. In addition, 38 additional countries joined the partnership and will endorse the declaration and release their own plans in March 2012.
Obama Administration Embraces Open Government
The Obama administration's leadership in the partnership reaffirms the administration's commitment to open government. In his remarks at the inaugural OGP event, Obama called open government "the essence of democracy." Obama also noted the partnership in his address to the UN the following day.
The declaration signed by the U.S. and partner countries states, "We accept responsibility for seizing this moment to strengthen our commitments to promote transparency, fight corruption, empower citizens, and harness the power of new technologies to make government more effective and accountable."
New U.S. Commitments
The administration's plan laid out specific goals and commitments for 26 issues. It included a number of important new commitments that will improve open government, such as:
- Improving fiscal transparency, including publishing more information on revenue the government receives from companies extracting natural resources and on foreign aid paid by the U.S. to developing countries
- Expanding the use of technology in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) administration in order to build a 21st century FOIA system
- Reforming the failing records management system, which too often results in delays in providing information to the public or the improper loss or destruction of information
- Strengthening citizen engagement, including redesigning Regulations.gov, launching the ExpertNet system, and developing best practices for agencies to follow in public participation
- Increasing access to data by launching new user-oriented communities on Data.gov and establishing guidelines for greater sharing of scientific data
The plan also includes the continuation of several important initiatives previously announced by the administration, such as the "We the People" petition platform; the Government Accountability and Transparency Board, which is developing recommendations to improve spending transparency; expanding access to regulatory compliance information; publishing more information to help consumers make informed decisions; and making federal websites more useful for the public.
The open government community praised the plan. Katherine McFate, President and CEO of OMB Watch, said in a statement, "This bold, ambitious plan will push the U.S. toward fully realizing the president’s goal of making our national government as transparent as possible and fully open to citizens."
The action plans for the other seven founding OGP countries also contained innovative and bold commitments that help raise the bar for open and accountable government programs. For instance, Brazil, the co-chair of the OGP along with the U.S., committed to holding a national conference on transparency and participation in 2012 to highlight the issues and gather broader input on additional steps. Brazil also plans to establish a pro-ethics company registry to give visibility to those corporations that invest in corruption prevention. The United Kingdom's plan included a commitment to create sector-specific Transparency Boards to challenge government to make more data public. The U.K. also agreed to development of a central data warehouse, similar to the U.S.’s Data.gov.
Improving citizen participation was a major focus of other countries such as the Philippines, which included commitments to create an empowerment fund to support civil society groups to organize communities to engage in implementation and oversight of poverty reduction programs. The country also pledged to increase the level of consultation with civil society organizations on the government budget by expanding its participatory budgeting process to 12 departments and six government corporations by the end of 2012. The Norway plan emphasized improving opportunities for women to participate in civic life. Among the commitments the country pledged to address are equal pay for equal work, ensuring women apply for top posts in the private sector, and tackling gender stereotypes through schools, the labor market, and the media.
Having committed to these advances, the Obama administration will now turn to implementing them. The U.S. plan contained few details on the vehicles or timeline for accomplishing each goal. Under the OGP roadmap for participation, the administration will need to continue to consult with the public as it implements the plan.
The administration is also required to report on progress toward realizing the plan within one year. In addition to the self-assessment report, the partnership will also publish an independent assessment of the administration's progress, written by civil society groups.