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Innovations in Open Government that are Changing DOT

The release of version 2.0 of DOT’s open government plan, is a great opportunity to look at some of the great work that they’ve done since the last iteration.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has been committed to advancing the principles of a more open government since Day One of this Administration—by harnessing the skills and talents of the American people, releasing information, establishing greater collaboration among Federal agencies, and improving how efficiently the agency carries out its mission.

The release of version 2.0 of DOT’s open government plan is a great opportunity to look at some of the great work that they’ve done since the last iteration.

Increasing Agency Transparency & Accountability

Information is power, so DOT has released useful information that they hold without sacrificing accuracy, security and privacy. This year DOT released an inventory of high value data in its possession.  We know that citizens are interested in the information DOT possesses because there have been more than 40,000 views of DOT data sets on DOT has also released Recovery Act data on overall spending, and Recovery Act spending on highway-specific projects, ensuring that taxpayers know that their dollars are spent wisely.

DOT is giving the public greater access to information through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The public now has access to the Department’s staffing and organizational structure, the process for analyzing requests, and an assessment of DOT’s capacity to handle FOIA requests. By the numbers, here’s what DOT’s FOIA program has accomplished in the past year:

  • 8% reduction of backlog of initial requests in FY2011;
  • 22% reduction of backlog of administrative appeals in FY2011:
  • 72-day reduction in the age of DOT’s oldest pending initial request;
  • 119-day reduction in the age of DOT’s oldest pending administrative appeal.

Lastly, DOT is taking the lead in implementing a key element of the President’s National Action Plan for Open Government: launching a public safety community on The site will provide access to a wide variety of safety data and will help raise the profile of safety as a national health issue. It will inform stakeholders of community safety initiatives through the coordination, consolidation, and clustering of safety datasets. DOT will lead this partnership with the Department of Labor, the National Institute of Justice and the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure integration of the relevant public safety and occupational safety datasets.

Applying Citizen Knowledge to Government Service

Releasing information—while important—is not the whole story of how open government empowers citizens.  DOT has been a leader in providing opportunities for public input into the creation of DOT policies and programs. Regulation Room, one of DOT’s flagship initiatives, provides an online environment to discuss and learn about regulations proposed by Federal agencies. It expands the types of public input available to agencies in the rulemaking process, while serving as a teaching and research platform. Over the past year, Regulation Room has had

  • Over 24,000 unique visitors to the site;
  • Over 1,000 comments from users of the site;
  • Over 50% of visitors who said they learned more about the rulemaking process;
  • Over 80% of visitors who said they learned more about the positions and arguments of others;
  • Over 75% of visitors who said they learned more about what DOT was trying to accomplish with rulemaking on airline passenger rights.

Collaboration and Culture Change

Finally, DOT has started to embed the culture of open government into all aspects of the agency’s work because the agency—from the top down—realizes that a more efficient and effective government that works for all citizens is the result of true collaboration across all levels of the public and private sector.  That’s why DOT is collaborating with Federal agencies, the private sector, and other non-government organizations in providing the public with mission-related services such as the Digital Transportation Exchange, Code for Livability, and DOT’s customer service plan.

While the job is not complete, DOT has done an enormous amount of work to change how government interacts with citizens—working to ensure that government works for citizens, and not the other way around.  Read DOT’s new plan and comment.  They’d love to hear from you!

Chris Vein is Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer