Opening Remarks by President Obama on Open Government Partnership
Waldorf Astoria Hotel
New York, New York
2:35 P.M. EDT
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon, everyone. And welcome to this inaugural event of a partnership that’s already transforming how governments serve their citizens in the 21st century.
One year ago, at the U.N. General Assembly, I stated a simple truth -- that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and in open governments. And I challenged our countries to come back this year with specific commitments to promote transparency, to fight corruption, to energize civic engagement, and to leverage new technologies so we can strengthen the foundations of freedom in our own countries.
Today, we’re joined by nations and organizations from around the world that are answering this challenge. In this Open Government Partnership, I’m pleased to be joined by leaders from the seven other founding nations of this initiative. I especially want to commend my friend, President Rousseff of Brazil, for her leadership in open government and for joining the United States as the first co-chairs of this effort.
We’re joined by nearly 40 other nations who've also embraced this challenge, with the goal of joining this partnership next year. And we’re joined by civil society organizations from around the world -- groups that not only help hold governments accountable, but who partnered with us and who offer new ideas and help us to make better decisions. Put simply, our countries are stronger when we engage citizens beyond the halls of government. So I welcome our civil society representatives -- not as spectators, but as equal partners in this initiative.
This, I believe, is how progress will be achieved in the 21st century -- meeting global challenges through global cooperation, across all levels of society. And this is exactly the kind of partnership that we need now, as emerging democracies from Latin America to Africa to Asia are all showing how innovations in open government can help make countries more prosperous and more just; as new generations across the Middle East and North Africa assert the old truth that government exists for the benefit of their people; and as young people everywhere, from teeming cities to remote villages, are logging on, and texting, and tweeting and demanding government that is just as fast, just as smart, just as accountable.
This is the moment that we must meet. These are the expectations that we must fulfill. And now we see governments around the world meeting this challenge, including many represented here today. Countries from Mexico to Turkey to Liberia have passed laws guaranteeing citizens the right to information. From Chile to Kenya to the Philippines, civil society groups are giving citizens new tools to report corruption. From Tanzania to Indonesia -- and as I saw firsthand during my visit to India -- rural villages are organizing and making their voices heard, and getting the public services that they need. Governments from Brazil to South Africa are putting more information online, helping people hold public officials accountable for how they spend taxpayer dollars.
Here in the United States, we’ve worked to make government more open and responsive than ever before. We’ve been promoting greater disclosure of government information, empowering citizens with new ways to participate in their democracy. We are releasing more data in usable forms on health and safety and the environment, because information is power, and helping people make informed decisions and entrepreneurs turn data into new products, they create new jobs. We’re also soliciting the best ideas from our people in how to make government work better. And around the world, we’re standing up for freedom to access information, including a free and open Internet.
Today, the eight founding nations of our partnership are going even further -- agreeing to an Open Government Declaration rooted in several core principles. We pledge to be more transparent at every level -- because more information on government activity should be open, timely, and freely available to the people. We pledge to engage more of our citizens in decision-making -- because it makes government more effective and responsive. We pledge to implement the highest standards of integrity -- because those in power must serve the people, not themselves. And we pledge to increase access to technology -- because in this digital century, access to information is a right that is universal.
Next, to put these principles into practice, every country that seeks to join this partnership will work with civil society groups to develop an action plan of specific commitments. Today, the United States is releasing our plan, which we are posting on the White House website and at OpenGovPartnership.org.
Among our commitments, we’re launching a new online tool -- called “We the People” -- to allow Americans to directly petition the White House, and we’ll share that technology so any government in the world can enable its citizens to do the same. We’ve develop new tools -- called “smart disclosures” -- so that the data we make public can help people make health care choices, help small businesses innovate, and help scientists achieve new breakthroughs.
We’ll work to reform and expand protections for whistleblowers who expose government waste, fraud and abuse. And we’re continuing our leadership of the global effort against corruption, by building on legislation that now requires oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose the payments that foreign governments demand of them.
Today, I can announce that the United States will join the global initiative in which these industries, governments and civil society, all work together for greater transparency so that taxpayers receive every dollar they’re due from the extraction of natural resources.
So these are just some of the steps that we’re taking. And today is just the beginning of a partnership that will only grow -- as Secretary Clinton leads our effort on behalf of the United States, as these nearly 40 nations develop their own commitments, as we share and learn from each other and build the next generation of tools to empower our citizens and serve them better.
So that’s the purpose of open government. And I believe that’s the essence of democracy. That’s the commitment to which we’re committing ourselves here today. And I thank all of you for joining us as we meet this challenge together.
I want to thank you very much for your participation. And with that, I would like to turn over the chair to my co-chair, President Rousseff.
2:42 P.M. EDT