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United States Results Report 2019-2022

The fourth National Action Plan for Open Government (NAP4) of the United States exhibited a higher degree of completion compared to its predecessors. However, it produced fewer substantial results due to its reduced level of ambition. The engagement of civil society, which had already been insufficient during the co-creation process, further declined during implementation. Consequently, civil society frequently encountered difficulties in obtaining basic information necessary for monitoring the progress of implementation and in offering input and feedback.

Completion and Early Results

The NAP4 of the United States comprised a total of eight commitments, with seven of them focused on specific policy areas including but not limited to tackling health crises and enhancing the transparency of intelligence agencies. Commitment 8, however, took a procedural approach by aiming to restore the Open Government Partnership (OGP) process, acknowledging that the public participation during the co-creation of the plan had failed to meet the minimum standards. This deficiency in public engagement not only reflected but also exacerbated the unprecedented tension between the government and civil society.

Out of the seven commitments that were substantially completed, six of them aligned closely with the principles of open government. These commitments primarily focused on facilitating access to information, while also emphasizing the use of technology and innovation to enhance transparency and accountability across a range of areas.

However, apart from Commitment 8, which aimed to enhance the level and quality of participation in future action plans, only Commitment 6 included a component of public participation. Furthermore, none of the commitments specifically prioritized establishing or improving opportunities or mechanisms for public accountability. This indicates an area that requires attention in order to foster a more comprehensive and effective system of public accountability within the framework of open government initiatives.

Seven of the eight commitments included in the NAP4 were substantially or fully implemented. This represented a significant improvement compared to previous NAPs but did not necessarily translate into more significant results. One reason why a high proportion of commitments were implemented despite the absence of strong civil society pressure or oversight is that they were part of a preexisting government agenda rather than responses to civil society demands. The degree of completion of Commitment 2—the one commitment highlighted as “noteworthy” in the Design Report—could not be assessed due to insufficient information, and no early results could be traced back to it. This was at least in part because of the way the commitment was formulated: vaguely phrased, lacking clear outputs and outcomes, and therefore highly dependent on the ambition guiding its implementation.

NAP4’s level of early results is difficult to compare with that of NAP3. The plans had marked differences in volume—NAP3 contained 52 commitments, only eight of which were assessed as having made a major or outstanding contribution to opening government. And ambition was much lower for NAP4.

Out of NAP4’s eight commitments, two yielded major early results (Commitments 3 and 6). Four showed results that were assessed as marginal (Commitments 1, 4, 7, and 8). Two had no early results to report (Commitments 2 and 5). Notably, Commitments 2 and 5 were initially assessed as having moderate or transformative potential impact but did not live up to their potential. Commitments 3 and 6 were assessed as having a minor potential impact but were implemented with a higher level of ambition than foreseen, yielding major early results.

Both commitments with significant early results (Commitments 3 and 6) were in some way connected to open science, which was also a strong suit of the previous NAP. Commitment 3 made sizeable progress in providing public access to federally funded research, with immediate positive repercussions on public health research in the pandemic context. That commitment will now be carried on to the next NAP, with its focus shifting from the offer of to the demand for data, aimed at enabling better access by final users.

Commitment 6 harnessed open data to crowdsource solutions for major public health problems involving key stakeholders, including patient advocacy groups and families. In this case, success resulted from the adoption of an open government approach, including radical transparency and openness to public participation. This approach brought together a diversity of stakeholders who did not trust each other or the government and would not have collaborated if a standard public health approach had been used instead.

Participation and Co-Creation

The development of NAP4 involved multiple White House offices without clearly demarcated responsibilities working alongside the OpenGov Interagency and Civil Society Working Group, which composed the government’s Multi-Stakeholder Forum (MSF). MSF was responsible for soliciting civil society input, and the White House was responsible for selecting the final commitments and publishing NAP4. Opportunities for civil society engagement in designing NAP4 were limited to regular meetings with the Interagency and Civil Society Working Group, plus a few stand-alone events, which civil society stakeholders assessed as insufficient. Critically, civil society had no control over which commitments were eventually included in the NAP4 and no say in the decision to exclude others.

The predictable result of this process was a NAP that mostly reflected government priorities and contained commitments that were part of ongoing or planned initiatives that were going to happen regardless. The commitments had low levels of ambition, ensuring that they would be easy to complete. The commitments were phrased vaguely, without clearly defined activities or deliverables, giving implementing agencies much leeway in defining precisely what would qualify as evidence of their completion.

NAP4 was published in 2019 after successive delays that resulted in the United States being temporarily placed under review by OGP’s Criteria and Standards Subcommittee. Its protracted co-creation process took place at a time of heightened tension between government and civil society, which continued into the implementation period. Many civil society groups deserted the co-creation process due to concerns that their participation could help to legitimize an administration that they viewed as lacking any commitment to open government and behaving arbitrarily and unaccountably. Others left because they did not think it was a worthy investment, as conditions for civil society participation did not augur well for an ambitious plan capable of producing major improvements in government openness.

Implementation in Context

In the implementation phase, leadership shifted to the General Services Administration (GSA). If public participation in NAP4’s co-creation process was lower than in previous NAPs, it declined further during implementation, for a variety of reasons. First, most commitments did not include participatory components enabling civil society to play an active role in the implementation process. Second, the administration failed to provide enough public information to allow civil society to even track implementation progress. Last but not least, many civil society groups remained discouraged by the NAP’s limited ambition and simply counted their losses, hoping that the co-creation of the next NAP would offer better opportunities to re-engage. The implementation of individual commitments moved forward relatively autonomously. This was thanks to the initiative of public officials trying to work inconspicuously in a rather challenging environment within an administration that did not favor open government principles.

It is worth noting that two major events had a significant impact on the implementation of NAP4: the COVID-19 pandemic that began in March 2020 and the change of government that followed the November 2020 presidential election. As pointed out by a government stakeholder, the pandemic “pulled government attention and funding away from implementation of the 4th NAP” and “required retooling engagements to virtual methods,” likely affecting public engagement efforts negatively.[1] The administration turnover, in turn, brought further uncertainties[2] but also new opportunities for engagement, particularly around individual commitments.

[1] Cf. pre-publication comment from US government, June 9, 2023.

[2] During the transition, responsibility for supporting NAP efforts within the Executive Office changed multiple times from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to the Office of Management and Budget to the Office of American Innovation which no longer exists. Cf. “Release of the Equitable Data Working Group Report,” April 22, 2022,; pre-publication comment from US government, June 9, 2023.


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