Since the first day of his Administration, President Barack Obama has made Open Government a high priority. The Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government was the first executive action to bear the President’s signature, and the President has pledged his Administration to work toward “an unprecedented level of openness in Government.”
Over the past two and a half years, Federal agencies have done a great deal to make government more transparent and more accessible, to provide people with information that they can use in their daily lives, to solicit public participation in government decision-making, and to collaborate with all sectors of the economy on new and innovative solutions. These Open Government efforts are now entering a new phase, as we collaborate with other countries in the global Open Government Partnership (OGP).
President Obama has emphasized three independent reasons to support Open Government:
- Open Government promotes accountability, which can improve performance. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
- Transparency enables people to find information that they “can readily find and use.” For this reason, the President has asked agencies to “harness new technologies” and “solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.”
- In many domains, government should develop policies, rules, and plans with close reference to the knowledge, expertise, and perspectives of diverse members of the public. As the President has said, “[k]nowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge” and hence to “collective expertise and wisdom.”
As it developed a U.S. National Action Plan (“National Plan”), the Federal Government engaged in extensive consultations with external stakeholders, including a broad range of civil society groups and members of the private sector. It solicited input from the Administration’s own Open Government Working Group, comprised of senior-level representatives from executive branch departments and agencies. White House policymakers also engaged the public via a series of blog posts, requesting ideas about how to focus Open Government efforts on increasing public integrity, more effectively managing public resources, and improving public services. Responsive submissions were posted online.
This National Plan builds on, but does not replace, the Open Government Initiative inaugurated by the President’s Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. The National Plan will briefly highlight what has been accomplished thus far and lay out some of our goals and plans for the future.
The process of opening government is a continuing work-in-progress. This National Plan is but one step in an initiative that has produced significant results over the last two and a half years and that will continue, under the President’s leadership, in many forms in the future. Just as we will continue to generate and implement Open Government policies and reforms, so, too, we will continue to seek input from outside groups and citizens about how to create a more Open Government.
Over the last two and a half years, the Administration has taken numerous specific steps to make the Federal Government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative. The Administration’s Open Government efforts to date are outlined in great detail in “The Obama Administration’s Commitment to Open Government: A Status Report.” That Status Report outlines the Administration’s major Open Government initiatives, summarizes the progress made on those initiatives, and explains how the Administration will continue to implement them over the next months and years. A more complete picture of current Open Government efforts and accomplishments to date can also be found on agency Open Government web pages, available at www.[agency domain].gov/open.
While agency Open Government Plans continue to evolve and improve with the help of public participation, the Administration has numerous accomplishments to date. Examples include:
- Open Government Directive and Agency Plans. The OMB Open Government Directive required agencies both to take immediate specific steps and to establish long-term goals to achieve greater openness and transparency. In addition, numerous agencies created Open Government Plans, which lay out in detail how they will increase transparency and integrate public participation and collaboration into their core activities.
- Data Availability. As agencies developed their Open Government Plans, they made unprecedented amounts of information available and easily accessible to the public, in part through a centralized government platform, Data.gov. This platform, designed in large part to provide people with information that they can readily find and use, now gives the public access to over 390,000 high value agency data sets on such diverse subjects as auto safety, air travel, air quality, workplace safety, drug safety, nutrition, crime, obesity, employment, and health care.
- Disclosure to Increase Accountability and to Promote Informed Consumer Choice. The Administration has taken numerous steps to inform consumers in areas such as health, education, nutrition, energy efficiency, fuel economy, environmental protection, and financial services. Building on governmentwide guidance issued by OMB on June 18, 2010, the Administration is promoting, in many areas, the use of disclosure as a low-cost, high-impact regulatory tool to ensure informed decisions.
- Data Communities to Spark Breakthroughs for National Priorities. The President released the Strategy for American Innovation as a blueprint for sparking innovative solutions to well-defined problems of national importance. The Administration has played a role in harnessing American ingenuity by launching Data.gov communities to simplify access to high value data and inform innovators and the private sector about a growing array of agency prizes, challenges, and competitions.
- Enforcement and Compliance Data. The President issued a memorandum on January 18, 2011 requiring Federal enforcement agencies to make publicly-available compliance information easily accessible, downloadable, and searchable online.
- Reviewing Existing Agency Rules. In Executive Order 13563, “Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review,” the President required Federal agencies and departments to undertake an unprecedentedly open process for reviewing their existing rules. The process invited extensive public comment and has resulted in the creation of plans that will eliminate millions of hours in annual reporting burdens and billions of dollars in annual regulatory costs.
- Government Transparency. The White House has established a clear presumption in favor of openness by posting visitor records, staff financial disclosures, salaries, and ethics waivers on the White House website for the first time and by reversing prior limits on access to presidential records. We are also posting online records concerning the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, Troubled Assets Relief Program, and economic stimulus lobbying.
- Freedom of Information. The President’s Memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), issued on January 21, 2009, instructed agencies to adopt a presumption of disclosure and to take proactive steps to make information available to the public. In response, agencies have increasingly provided information to the public affirmatively, rather than in response to incoming FOIA requests, and have developed better ways for processing FOIA requests. The Department of Justice’s new FOIA dashboard will enable users to assess FOIA compliance for the nearly 100 agencies subject to FOIA.