White House releases open government action plan with new initiatives

This story has been updated.

The White House on Tuesday released its National Action Plan for Open Government, part of a 50-nation Open Government Partnership officially launched on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The action plan recaps many transparency initiatives from the first three years of the Obama administration, such as the government-generated data set repository Data.gov, a governmentwide push to respond more quickly and fully to Freedom of Information Act requests and to declassify outdated national security information, and a recently launched website for citizens to petition the government.

The action plan also includes several new initiatives.

Among them are Foreignassistance.gov, a website where agencies that administer foreign aid will be required to post detailed and standardized project and budget information so officials can better evaluate those programs' effectiveness, and Expertnet, an online forum where government officials can link up with private sector experts.

The Open Government Partnership is a voluntary association of 50 nations committed to creating detailed open government plans and to sharing best practices. Before its official launch Tuesday, the organization was led by an eight-nation steering committee chaired by the United States and Brazil.

The steering committee published a list of about 80 countries that are eligible to join the partnership based on a rating system that includes budget transparency and the income disclosure required of public officials.

The partnership's aim is to be a "race to the top" for nations that already are committed to open government, not a ploy to promote transparency in closed regimes such as China and Iran, Nathaniel Heller, an international transparency advocate who helped develop the organization's technical capacity, told Nextgov earlier this month.

The U.S. plan also involves packaging its transparency initiatives to be used easily in other nations. The White House plans to publish the source code for its We the People petition page, for instance, so it can be adopted by other nations or by state and local governments, the plan said.

The United States and India also have partnered to release a standardized version of Data.gov and the Indian data set repository India.gov.in, called "Data.gov in a box."

Early assessments of the U.S. action plan from transparency advocates were positive.

Katherine McFate, President of OMB Watch, called the plan "bold" and "ambitious." Former Clinton Administration Chief of Staff John Podesta, now president of the Center for American Progress said the plan put the Obama Administration on track to becoming the most transparent presidential administration in history.

"As a leader of open government initiatives undertaken by the Clinton administration," Podesta said in a statement, "I know it's difficult to move bureaucracies on these issues...The initiatives announced today will improve democratic accountability and boost public trust in government--a trust that is sorely needed today, and which governments around the world must daily aim to restore."

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