OGov on Track, But to Where?

President Obama's open government initiative is on track with part two of a process intended to involve the public in policymaking. Late Tuesday night, White House officials released a <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/Wrap-Up-of-the-Open-Government-Brainstorming-Transparency/">summary</a> of part one -- a week-long brainstorming session -- and a bit more information on round two.

President Obama's open government initiative is on track with part two of a process intended to involve the public in policymaking. Late Tuesday night, White House officials released a summary of part one -- a week-long brainstorming session -- and a bit more information on round two. Critics had called out officials for cutting off the comment-period without explaining how ideas would be selected for the next stage, an online discussion. The culmination of this experiment is supposed to be a policy that directs agencies to add transparency, collaboration and public participation to their daily operations.

While officials fulfilled promises to explain their rationale for picking winners from phase one, they offered little insight into the practical logistics of incorporating public discussion into a presidential directive.

A White House blog entry posted by Beth Noveck, deputy chief technology officer for open government, says:

There were plenty of great ideas that we read but that unfortunately did not make sense to bring into the next phase, including those with no relation to transparency policy, endorsing a product, or describing legislative action outside the purview of the executive branch. We are bracketing suggestions for long-range change, such as proposals that require a constitutional amendment in favor of working with those that can lead to change in the shorter term. We are also temporarily putting to one side suggestions about transparency in specific agencies (i.e. environmental or food safety transparency, creating Facebook pages for mail carriers, greater budgetary transparency in the Central Intelligence Agency). We will hold onto these proposals for subsequent conversations involving the decision-makers from the relevant agencies. Some ideas (i.e. on regulations.gov or open source software) labeled with "Transparency" will fit better in our later discussions about participation and collaboration.

Some of the finalists chosen from among the brainstorm posts, ideas offered by government employees during an internal online conversation in March, and proposals submitted via e-mail:

1) Transparency Principles: How do we define transparency so that we can prioritize our policymaking?

• Adopt 8 open government data principles (complete, primary, timely, accessible, machine processable, non-discriminatory, non-proprietary, license-free);

• Adopt Carter Center plan of action for the advancement of the right of access to information;

2) Transparency Governance: How do we institutionalize transparency across all government agencies and establish structures to ensure thoughtful and considered progress toward transparency?

• Replicate Florida's model of an Office of Open Government;

• Establish a transparency officer/open government officer and interdisciplinary team in each agency whose job it is to inventory and proactively make data available to the public. Transparency officer must not be an information technology expert only but someone knowledgeable about legal frameworks, such as privacy and information quality;

3) Information Access: How do we improve the efficiency and effectiveness of access to government information? How do we improve the government's ability to disclose information pro-actively and bring down the cost and burden of compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?

• Impose penalties on agencies not following FOIA or tolerating excessive delays. Look at India's approach, in which government officials become personally liable and must pay fines if they do not act in a timely fashion;

• Use visualization tools to show timeliness of FOIA processing in real time and track which official has responsibility for the request at any given time, i.e. workflow management;

4) Data and Metadata: What technological approaches might be used to improve access to government data? What governmentwide approaches to data and metadata should we be undertaking? How can we improve the usefulness of Data.gov, the government's new platform for access to data?

• Inventory and prioritize agency data for publication in open, downloadable formats;

• Set agency targets: by a given date, X percent of non-sensitive agency data should be online;

• Use Data.gov as a repository of newly declassified information;

• Make contributed data subject to a waiver of copyright and database rights using the "CCO" scheme from Creative Commons;

5) Open Government Operations: What are the strategies for making the workings of government more open and accountable? How do we balance openness and other constraints, like privacy and efficiency?

• Create a "MyGov.gov" customized data feed/alert system that reaches across all federal agencies; i.e. create a "Citizens Portal";

• Publish a directory of who works in government. Agencies state there are legal issues and policies in place that prohibit them from posting their organization charts. Changing this might help increase transparency;

• Publish a list of everyone who meets with the president;

• Allow government employees to speak to journalists more freely to foster


"Phase II focuses on defining the challenges in greater depth. We will be asking for your help with fleshing out the issues, potential solutions, and the pros and cons of proposed approaches. Tomorrow, June 3rd, we will invite your comments on the first blog post of the Discussion Phase. The first set of posts will focus on each of the five transparency themes (principles, governance, access, data, operations) listed above, followed by a series of posts on participation and collaboration. The goal of Phase II is to explore proposals for a Government-wide framework to achieve transparency, participation and collaboration. We want your help with translating good ideas into concrete, measurable and cost-effective solutions," Noveck adds.

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