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Transparency: Access to Information

The Federal government is the largest single producer, collector, consumer, and disseminator of information in the United States.   Providing meaningful access to this information is a key goal of President Obama’s Open Government Initiative.  
As part of the Open Government Initiative, the President tasked Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Peter Orszag with issuing an Open Government Directive to Federal agencies. The OMB Directive will be informed by recommendations being developed by the Chief Technology Officer. Consistent with the President’s goals of promoting government transparency, participation, and collaboration, the public has been invited to offer ideas and suggestions. 
With this blog post, OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is pleased to join this discussion. One of OIRA’s core responsibilities is to oversee the implementation of Federal information resource management policies. As we think ahead to the development of OMB’s Open Government Directive, we’d like your opinions and comments. 
Many promising ideas were proposed during the Open Government Brainstorm. Among the notable comments included suggestions that the Federal government:
  • Seek public input on data to be made transparent;
  • Identify candidate agencies or programs as pilots for transparency initiatives;
  • Post frequently requested categories of government information; and
  • Inventory and prioritize agency data for publication in open, downloadable formats
OIRA is interested to hear the public’s thoughts on two matters in particular, OMB circular A-130 and FOIA.
1. OMB Circular A-130, "Management of Information Resources," is OMB’s principal guidance to agencies on information resources management in general, and on information dissemination principles in particular. Your views on the current Circular, and your suggestions to improve it, are invited. Specifically:
  • Are the basic assumptions and considerations laid out in A-130 which form the basis for the policy in it accurate and up-to-date for today’s environment?
  • Are there any critical gaps or holes which need to be addressed?
  • Are any of the sections out-of-date to the point where they encourage information policy principles which are no longer effective, but instead counterproductive?
  • Given the emphasis on information policy and capital planning of IT investments which are subject to those policies, does the current relationship between these two areas in A-130 need to be updated or altered?
  • Besides the high level principles, should A-130 contain more specific actions for agencies to carry out in order to encourage better adoption of efficient and effective policies for management of an agency’s information resources? 
2. President Obama’s recent January 21st memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) directs OMB to update its guidance to agencies to increase and improve information dissemination to the public, including through the use of new technologies. If we improved information dissemination, we believe there would be fewer FOIA requests, since a FOIA request is usually a last option when seeking information from the government. So, we would be interested in your thoughts on how OMB could update its guidance. Specifically: 
  • What recommendations are there for agencies to pro-actively post information on their websites to avoid a FOIA request from even occurring?
  • What are your recommendations to make FOIA reading rooms more useful and information more easily searchable, as they are meant to be a mechanism for information dissemination to the public?   
On behalf of OIRA, thank you in advance for your comments and ideas, we look forward to seeing them over at OSTP's blog.
Michael Fitzpatrick is the Associate Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.