Concern grows over emphasis on technology to push transparency

Some members of the open government community want the Obama administration to address policies that would make information disclosure a central part of doing business, not just creating Web sites and applications.

Some members of the open government community are dissatisfied with what they believe to be the White House's overemphasis on technology to carry out its transparency initiative.

President Obama took office pledging in a Jan. 21 memo to release a directive ordering agencies to use technology to create a more transparent government.

Parts of the whistleblower community and OpenTheGovernment.org steering committee want officials to address policies that would make information disclosure a central part of doing business in government. Such policies, which include e-rulemaking, classification and archiving regulations, would use technology as a means to an end, not the end, they say.

Open government advocates outside the technology community stress that new applications such as wikis, which are Web pages that any user can edit, are one tool for creating transparency in government, but "wiki government" is not the solution, they argue.

White House officials on May 21 took the lead in organizing typical Internet users to draft the so-called open government directive. The process has thus far involved various Web forums for sharing ideas, including a blog, wiki and an online voting booth.

But June 27 was the last time an official updated the public on the effort. That day, Beth Noveck, deputy chief technology officer and head of the open government project, announced on the White House Web site that the public would have an opportunity to draft and vote on recommendations for the directive until July 6. On Aug. 7, Michael Baldwin, contributor to the Office of Science and Technology Policy blog, wrote that officials were still reviewing submissions, votes and comments.

Some of the more tech-oriented transparency groups have a different concern about the direction of the initiative.

"The government's been focused on building Web sites, rather than publishing data," said Clay Johnson, director of Sunlight Labs, a division of the Sunlight Foundation that builds Web services with government data. "The publishing of data is the ultimate tool for transparency."

His organization would prefer the government provide access to raw data so people can draw their own conclusions about government operations. Johnson points to GovPulse.us as an example. The site is a finalist in the lab's Apps for America contest, which challenges citizen developers to build practical Web sites from free data sets available at the government's official data depot, Data.gov.

GovPulse reorganized content from the Federal Register, a daily log of federal rulemaking updates and opportunities, to comment on the regulations. The unofficial site allows users to search through lists of text-heavy entries for proceedings relevant to their personal interests.

OSTP officials on Thursday said the White House's open government team will update the public next week.