It’s Sunshine Week again—a chance to celebrate transparency and participation in government and freedom of information. Every year in mid-March, we take stock of our progress and where we are headed to make our government more open for the benefit of citizens.
In December, 2013, the Administration announced 23 ambitious commitments to further open up government over the next two years in U.S. Government’s second Open Government National Action Plan. Those commitments are now all underway or in development, including:
· Launching an improved Data.gov: The updated Data.gov debuted in January, 2014, and continues to grow with thousands of updated or new government data sets being proactively made available to the public.
· Increasing public collaboration: Through crowdsourcing, citizen science, and other methods, Federal agencies continue to expand the ways they collaborate with the public. For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, for instance, recently launched its third Asteroid Grand Challenge, a broad call to action, seeking the best and brightest ideas from non-traditional partners to enhance and accelerate the work NASA is already doing for planetary defense.
· Improving We the People: The online petition platform We the People gives the public a direct way to participate in their government and is currently incorporating improvements to make it easier for the public to submit petitions and signatures.
At the same time we have made important progress to improve the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – which provides the public with a statutory right to request and receive information from their government. Agencies are receiving more requests each year. In fiscal year 2013, agencies received more than 700,000 FOIA requests, up 8 percent from the previous year, and processed 678,000 requests, also an increase from the previous year. In the past five years, agencies have processed more than 3.1 million FOIA requests. FOIA continues to be a priority for the Administration in a variety of ways, and we are committed to further modernizing the process:
· Engaging with the Public: Today there are number of avenues through which government leaders and FOIA professionals can directly interact with the public. For example, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) now host quarterly FOIA Requester Roundtables with government FOIA professionals and FOIA requesters.
· Recognizing FOIA Expertise: FOIA professionals were recently “professionalized” into their own field, in terms of job categories offered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). OPM created the new 0306 Government Information Specialist job series which recognizes the importance of these skills and positions.
· Establishing a FOIA Ombudsman: The Office of Government Information Services opened in 2009 to introduce dispute resolution into the FOIA process and has now assisted with thousands of FOIA inquiries and disputes from agencies and the public.
There is much to celebrate this Sunshine Week but still much more work to be done. We look forward to continuing to work together to identify ways to build a more efficient, effective, and accountable government.
Corinna Zarek is Policy Advisor for Open Government