Yesterday President Obama hailed the release of the open government plans by all Cabinet agencies. The President recognized that innovation flourishes in an open environment, where we work collaboratively to share new ideas and ingenuity from a wide array of contributors for the betterment of our nation.
These plans are the agencies’ strategic roadmap for making openness -- transparency, citizen participation, and collaboration -- part of the way that the federal government works. Aneesh Chopra and Norm Eisen posted the announcement yesterday. Today we want to tell you more about what you will find in these Open Government Plans that are nothing short of an historic effort by the Executive Branch to change the culture of Washington for the better by inviting the American people into a collaboration: government of, for, by and now with the people.
The plans are chock full of examples of concrete efforts -- not lip service -- to making open government happen in practice and creating genuine opportunity for meaningful and practical civic engagement.
Transparency is one of the core principles of democracy. By communicating what we do and how we do it, we can foster accountability and trust in government. This is why it is exciting that Housing and Urban Development is recording all public events and making them available online. The Department of Education is publishing Secretary Arne Duncan’s schedule for all to see. Social Security is unveiling new tools on its website to help people (including Spanish speakers) more easily find information and services on the web and, in the event they aren’t web-literate to schedule an in-office appointment.
The agencies have also been tasked with making the data and information they hold available online in open formats. The Department of Labor announced the release of its new Online Enforcement Database – making all workplace safety data searchable and available in one place and, perhaps more important, a schedule with accountable milestones for identifying and posting even more data. Health and Human Services is publishing a large-scale community health data set -- a wealth of easily accessible, downloadable information data on community health care costs, quality, access, and public health.
Department of Justice is building a “Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Dashboard” to “shine a light” on the government’s compliance with FOIA. Not only will this visual report promote transparency, it should encourage Departments to compete to improve their FOIA compliance. Already two more Departments -- Health and Human Services and Department of Energy -- announced new FOIA programs in their plans to ensure that the public gets the information they request faster.
The agency open government plans also detail how government officials (without the need for legislation, regulation, or new budgets) are breaking down barriers between government and the public and inviting greater public participation in agency decisionmaking. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency is making citizen participation in its work the hallmark of its plan. Planned community engagement projects include everything from urban waters to solid waste and emergency response. U.S. Department of Agriculture is also ramping up its participation efforts in connection with the rules by which the nation plans its national forests. Department of Energy is creating the first ever open energy information platform that not only provisions government data about energy but invites the public to participate and share its data in an effort to create more informed energy usage and promote energy savings. The National Science Foundation’s flagship is to invest in studying citizen participation best practices and thereby help every agency do more participation better!
Working together within departments, across agencies and with private sector partners is a fundament of the open government initiative, which looks for strategies to generate creative thinking and new ideas to address complex problems. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), where I am at home, created a new physical office space -- we’ve gotten rid of walls and cubes -- and work in a collaborative physical environment to foster collaboration within OSTP. Department of Housing and Urban Development has committed to a collaborative effort across federal, state, and local government to share information and thereby prevent the spread of homelessness. NASA has created the contributor license agreement, a special contract to encourage software developers to contribute to ongoing NASA projects and, in turn, have the benefit of access to NASA technologies. This is just one part of NASA’s participatory space exploration efforts that engage the public in the work and the fun of space activities. GSA is making a lot of this collaboration possible by supplying web-based collaboration platforms to every agency that wants one.
This is just a handful of the many and varied projects underway. Because each agency is doing its own plan, we will get the benefit of distributed innovation. One will try webcasting and another a data transparency initiative and then be able to learn from one another.
So please dig in! Adopt a plan. Read it. And tell us how we can do things better. In the process, we hope to reinvigorate a shared sense of civic virtue born out of a common love for this democracy.
To find a list of all the plans go to: http://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/open/around
To read highlights of the plans go to: http://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/open/documents/flagship-initiatives
Beth Noveck is United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Director of the White House Open Government Initiative