Wednesday, December 9, 2009

White House Releases Open Government Directive

This may well be the best thing Obama has done.

bloggers The White House this morning released a long-awaited Open Government Directive that follows up on the president's promise -- memorialized on his first full day of office -- to usher in a new era of transparent, participatory governance.

The Directive, issued over the signature of OMB Director Peter Orszag, explains:

"Transparency promotes accountability by providing the public with information about what the Government is doing. Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise so that their government can make policies with the benefit of information that is widely dispersed in society. Collaboration improves the effectiveness of Government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the Federal Government, across levels of government, and between the Government and private institutions."

What is arguably most impressive about the Directive, as highlighted in a public briefing by CIO Vivek Kundra and and CTO Aneesh Chopra, is its specificity and focus on execution.

Some examples:

  • Agencies get 45 days to "identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets. "
  • Agencies get 60 days to "create an Open Government Webpage . . . to serve as the gateway for agency activities related to the Open Government Directive and shall maintain and update that webpage in a timely fashion."
  • Agencies have 45 days to "designate a high-level senior official to be accountable for the quality and objectivity of, and internal controls over" publicly disseminated Federal spending information.
  • Each agency has 120 days to "develop and publish on its Open Government Webpage an Open Government Plan that will describe how it will improve transparency and integrate public participation and collaboration into its activities."

This is exciting stuff, but it only heightens the need for what communication scholars call "trusted intermediaries" to help everyday citizens make the maximum use of new information resources.

A couple of weeks ago, I was briefing a Columbus city employee who is working on social networking innovations for the city on transparency initiatives at the Federal Communications Commission. She said, "Great! I now have another mountain of information I cannot possibly digest myself."

If Americans are to take advantage of newly available data sets, community institutions need to alert them to the ways in which they can do so.

If citizens are to contribute their ideas in ways that truly affect policy, then organizers need to mobilize public interest around those opportunities and help people to elaborate their ideas in ways most likely to affect policy thinking.

If transparency is truly to promote accountability, then the public needs journalists to help discover, gather, compare, contextualize, and share the new information becoming available. These journalists may be citizen journalists... [emphasis added]

Inserted from <Huffington Post>

Where can we find citizen journalists?  Does anybody have any ideas?


the walking man said...

We will see or will we?

Holte Ender said...

Where can we find citizen journalists? Well, lots of bloggers will be jumping all over new information data bases, new sources are always welcome to those who want to encourage, complain or enlighten.

Vigilante said...

What Holte said...

Jack Jodell said...

After the tight-lipped secrecy on everything during the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Gonzales days, even an administration locked in a safe and surrounded by foot-thick concrete would be more transparent than they were.

Lisa G. said...

Ok, I like this (it's a good start), but I think it is missing a few things:
a) This should be legislated and NOT come from the OMB. This forces other (i.e., Republican) administrations from blowing this off.
b) There should be a framework established so that i) all the information is presented in a consistent format (i.e., the web pages look similar from agency to agency; ii) a minimum timeframe should be set as to how often the web pages are updated; iii) the relevance and timeliness of information presented (such as outstanding FOIA requests, comparison of data, links to other agencies, etc.)
c) There should be an organizational chart to show what agencies report to which branches of government (I've talked to several people who work for the Federal government and even they can't explain it) and not some clusterfuck diagram; what the purpose of each agency (not so bullshit mission statement either - WTF do you do); your annual budget; key contact info including phone #s with real live people attached to them and email and mail addys.
d) In typical government "I don't know my ass from a hole in the ground" this memo could have been 1 page, with a few addendums stating the specifics (like those mentioned above). The memo is poorly written, easily mis-interpreted and short on some key critical points.

I'm sure I'll think of more things that I hate about it, once I read it again. It's a start and alot better than we had under the previous criminal regime.

Lisa G. said...

Seriously, when you join the government, these are your required classes that EVERYONE must take:

1) How to write 10,000 words or more and not say anything;
2) How to be intentionally vague so that everything you write and say can and will be easily misinterpreted;
3) How to write a document that says nothing specifically;
4) How to avoid any semblance of accountability by being intentionally vague;
5) How to write something that actually makes stupid people think that you are really doing something when actually you aren't doing jack shit;
6) How to speak 'lawyerese' so that everything you say, do or write can be discounted later;
7) How to be a total tool, jackass and obstructionist and still get paid boat loads of money (Congress has to take this class twice to make sure they absorb all the key facts);
8) How to totally suck at your job, not do jack shit for 40 years, make good money and benefits and still keep your job;
9) How to get shit on your boss that guarantees permanent employment even though your job is completely unneccesary;
10) How to get a job title that would consume a whole page like the Assistant Secretary to the Assistant Undersecretary to the Judicial Undersecretary of the Office of No one Knows what we do.
11) How to not exist on an org chart anywhere so you can't be fired because no one knows what you supposedly do, but it's obviously vital;
12) How to create a governmental agency that will exist forever and ever and never be cut; i.e., the Rural Electrification Agency. Seriously, it's 2009, if you don't have electricity by now, get some friggin solar panels and call it a day. Really.

TomCat said...

Mark, I hope we will.

Holte and Vig, exactly my point.

Jack, you're right on.

Lisa, great organization for it. I hope he appoints you to head it up. Your required reading is hilarious. Sadly what makes it hilarious is its truth.