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White House Open Government Directive to be Released This Fall

October 28, 2009

Yesterday White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Beth Noveck met with non-profit and industry organizations, including transparency groups and top technology companies, to talk about the administration’s progress on open government.  Noveck spoke on the record about the development of the Open Government Directive called for in President Obama’s day one memorandum on Transparency and Open Government.  Although the initial memo set a timeline of 120 days to develop the new directive (a deadline of May 21, 2009), according to Noveck, the directive will (finally) be released sometime “this Fall.”

Noveck’s other comments about the impending directive raised some concerns because she suggested that the directive, developed principally by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), will establish a framework for each agency to create its own open government plan.  This is a major red flag for those of us in the openness community.  Without a strong mandate and a clear statement of principals and goals, agencies may be inclined to take the minimum action rather than striving for real change.  We have seen this problem before, when President Bush issued an executive order on FOIA back in 2005, directing agencies to develop their own FOIA improvement plans; although some agencies made meaningful strides, many simply set easy targets and the result was minimal improvement in the FOIA process across the government.  Noveck did suggest that the open government directive would include clear policy guidance and that the White House would track agency implementation progress — including through a nifty new “open government dashboard.”  But, the White House must also be conscious that even the strongest call for openness and accountability will not necessarily give agencies the resources and the expertise they need to make the vision into reality.

In addition, even after the extensive public input process that took place over the summer, the White House is still looking for ideas about how to innovate around open government.  Noveck said they are seeking public input on what key government data sets should be made available through web sites like data.gov.  They also want to hear from groups and industry about what “grand challenges” facing our nation should be the target of innovation and collaboration between the public, private sector, and government.  (See the recent White House Report, A Strategy for American Innovation for more on this.)  The White House staff is also focusing on questions about how change the culture in federal agencies away from secrecy and towards openness and innovation, and what metrics can be used to measure the goals of the Open Government Directive: transparency, participation, and collaboration.

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