Open Government: A Time for Self-Assessment

This article was originally published on the White House Blog

The role of citizens in our democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government.” -- President Barack Obama, November 7, 2012

Since the first day of the Obama Administration, the Federal government has worked to make government more efficient, effective, and responsive to citizens’ needs. The Administration has harnessed new technology to engage the public, worked to disclose information more quickly, and given citizens a greater voice in decision-making.

In September 2011, the Administration’s work was launched on the world stage when President Obama and other world leaders endorsed the principles of the global Open Government Partnership (OGP). As part of our commitment to OGP, the United States launched the National Action Plan, a set of twenty-six concrete commitments that help increase public integrity, promote public participation, manage public resources more effectively, and improve public services. Praised by civil society organizations and the public, the Plan stands as a great example of what we can do as a country when government, civil society, and the public collaborate together. As the President has said, “Put simply, our countries are stronger when we engage citizens beyond the halls of government.” 

Today, we are proud to report that the United States has fulfilled twenty-four of those commitments. You can read more about the implementation of our National Action Plan here. Some highlights include:

  • We the People provides the American people a way to connect with the Obama Administration on the issues that matter most to them. The online platform allows anyone to create or sign a petition asking the Administration to take action on an issue. If a petition gets enough signatures, the White House issues an official response. Since its launch, 7.2 million people created more than 11.6 million signatures on more than 178,000 petitions; more than 30 percent of these users signed petitions that reached enough signatures to receive a response.
  • With the passage of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act and President Obama’s landmark directive extending whistleblower protections to the intelligence and national security communities for the first time, Federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government will better receive the protections they deserve.
  • In the interest of transparency, and to ensure that American taxpayers are receiving every dollar due for the extraction of their natural resources, President Obama announced the U.S. commitment to implement the international standard known as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  The United States has formed its multi-stakeholder group of government, industry and public stakeholders, which is working collaboratively to fulfill the final EITI sign-up requirement: completion of a candidacy application that will lay out an implementation plan for the next few years.    
  • As part of the Administration’s Open Data Initiatives, thousands of government data resources across fields such as health and medicine, education, energy, public safety, global development, and finance have been posted in machine-readable form for free public use on Data.gov. Entrepreneurs and innovators are developing a vast range of new products and businesses using these public information resources – helping to improve the lives of Americans in many tangible ways, and creating good jobs in the process

But there is always more work that can be done. Opening government takes time, effort, and resources, and the Obama Administration remains committed to continuing this work in the second term. 

In the coming months, we will continue to work to complete the initiatives in the National Action Plan. In addition, we are excited to announce that the U.S. is committing to release a second Open Government National Action Plan later this year. 

As we develop this new National Action Plan, we will engage members of the public and open government advocates in a variety of ways – from in-person consultations to online dialogues. We will let you know about these opportunities to engage as they become available and we will also post information at whitehouse.gov/open and on Twitter @OpenGov. We hope that you will take an active role in contributing ideas for our next plan. 

Together, we will work to continue to empower public participation in policy dialogues, release information that spurs innovation and helps citizens hold government accountable, and make government more efficient and responsive.  This is, as the President has said, “the essence of democracy,” and the cause that we re-commit ourselves to today.

Lisa Ellman is Chief Counselor for the Open Government Partnership and Senior Advisor to the US Chief Technology Officer
Todd Park is Assistant to the President and US Chief Technology Officer

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