Open Government Initiative Blog

  • An Initial Assessment of Open Government Plans

    As part of the ongoing implementation of the Open Government Plans, we have asked the Cabinet departments and other major agencies to work with us to evaluate version 1.0 of their Plans (or recent revisions) against the requirements of the Open Government Directive. The assessments show that we are off to a good start--but have much more work to do as we transition our overall efforts towards effective agency implementation. 

    There are important lessons to be learned not only from the government’s self-evaluation efforts, but also from the reviews and recommendations that we’re receiving from outside groups and individuals.  Some of the constructive criticisms are already being incorporated, while others are sparking new thoughts and approaches to how agencies are pressing forward with their initiatives.  We want that feedback and look forward to much more of it.  This is a work in progress – there are ways every plan can be strengthened – and all of us in the Administration are committed to a process of implementation, assessment, and improvement.  

    Earlier this month, we described a process for evaluating each agency’s plan to make operations and data more transparent, and expand opportunities for citizen participation, collaboration, and oversight. The review began with a checklist of 30 criteria drawn directly from the Directive. An agency that meets all of the criteria in full gets an overall green flag.  An agency that fails to fulfill even one criterion gets an overall yellow flag, to signify that more work remains to be done to improve the plan as part of the implementation process. In addition, we have included an evaluation of each of the four major components of the plan – Transparency, Participation, Collaboration, Flagship Initiative - as well as a process section.

    We have posted the results on our Open Government Dashboard. In addition, each agency has posted the specific results of its evaluation on their /open government page.

    Finding #1:  All on Board. All Cabinet departments and major agencies have submitted plans that make significant strides towards open government as called for in the Directive. Better still, many other agencies – not specifically bound by the Directive – have completed deliverables to demonstrate their commitment as well.  All agencies recognize the value of breaking down long-standing barriers between the American people and their government.

    Finding #2:  More Still to Do. Only three of the cabinet and other key agencies won a green flag for across-the-board excellence. All the others – including our own offices of OSTP and OMB – have more work to do before the Plan fully satisfies every requirement in the Directive. With your feedback, we are keen to improve upon these living documents to fulfill the letter and the spirit of the Directive.

    Finding #3:  Open Government Pracitices Worthy of Review. Three agencies both achieved the requirements and took ambitious steps that might serve as models for the rest of government – the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Transportation, and NASA. HHS developed a concrete plan to which it can be held accountable for identifying and publishing high value data sets with an impressive roster of commitments this year; Transportation engaged over 200 staff members in crafting the plan from nearly every service area to instill an open government culture wide and deep within the agency;  and NASA is inviting volunteer software developers to collaborate in the development of NASA technologies, both to advance the agency’s mission and to spur commercialization leading to economic growth.

    We will highlight more noteworthy open government practices across the agencies as they push forward with their plans.  We’ll keep our “leading practices” page a place where you can learn more about the innovative steps underway across the government. 

    We wish to especially thank the 20,000+ members of the public contributing to each agency’s plans, posting comments and voting on specific ideas. Your input has been incredibly valuable thus far and we hope you will continue to participate as we turn our attention towards the more important task of implementing the milestones described in each plan. We will be reporting back frequently through this blog and other fora to highlight the latest efforts in open government but the bulk of the work will take place at the agency level. Each agency will update you on implementation and opportunities for collaboration through their /open pages.

    Vivek Kundra is U.S. Chief Information Officer.

    Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer.

  • The World Bank Frees Its Data

    In an exciting advance for the global data transparency movement, the World Bank today launched its Open Data Initiative, releasing more than 2000 data sets that document human development worldwide, including health, business, finance, environment, and social welfare statistics.  This is a big deal for openness in development:  not only are these high-quality and often unique data sets, but until today they have been available only to paying subscribers. 

    The World Bank's new Open Data site has a lot of features that impress us here at the White House Open Government Initiative.  The data catalog is well-organized and easy to navigate, with breakdowns by country, topic, and statistical indicator.  Some 330 of the data sets have been translated into French, Spanish, and Arabic, with more languages to come.  And there are some good, lightweight, built-in visualization tools -- for example, check out the charts available in the country profile for Rwanda.  We especially like the URL (data.worldbank.org), which echoes our own Data.gov.

    Perhaps best of all, the World Bank also released an iPhone app called DataFinder, which enables data search and charts/visualizations on the fly.

    Finally, we're impressed by the World Bank's plan to encourage the development of applications that make innovative use of all this open data through an "Apps for Development" challenge later this year.

    Rowdy applause and congratulations to the World Bank team.  You've raised the bar on open data. 

    Andrew McLaughlin is Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer.

  • Open Government Plans: A Tour of the Horizon

    Yesterday President Obama hailed the release of the open government plans by all Cabinet agencies. The President recognized that innovation flourishes in an open environment, where we work collaboratively to share new ideas and ingenuity from a wide array of contributors for the betterment of our nation.

    These plans are the agencies’ strategic roadmap for making openness -- transparency, citizen participation, and collaboration -- part of the way that the federal government works. Aneesh Chopra and Norm Eisen posted the announcement yesterday. Today we want to tell you more about what you will find in these Open Government Plans that are nothing short of an historic effort by the Executive Branch to change the culture of Washington for the better by inviting the American people into a collaboration: government of, for, by and now with the people.
     
    The plans are chock full of examples of concrete efforts -- not lip service -- to making open government happen in practice and creating genuine opportunity for meaningful and practical civic engagement.

    Transparency

    Transparency is one of the core principles of democracy. By communicating what we do and how we do it, we can foster accountability and trust in government.  This is why it is exciting that Housing and Urban Development is recording all public events and making them available online. The Department of Education is publishing Secretary Arne Duncan’s schedule for all to seeSocial Security is unveiling new tools on its website to help people (including Spanish speakers) more easily find information and services on the web and, in the event they aren’t web-literate to schedule an in-office appointment.

    The agencies have also been tasked with making the data and information they hold available online in open formats. The Department of Labor announced the release of its new Online Enforcement Database – making all workplace safety data searchable and available in one place  and, perhaps more important, a schedule with accountable milestones for identifying and posting even more data. Health and Human Services is publishing a large-scale community health data set -- a wealth of easily accessible, downloadable information data on community health care costs, quality, access, and public health. 

    Department of Justice is building a “Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Dashboard” to “shine a light” on the government’s compliance with FOIA. Not only will this visual report promote transparency, it should encourage Departments to compete to improve their FOIA compliance. Already two more Departments -- Health and Human Services and Department of Energy -- announced new FOIA programs in their plans to ensure that the public gets the information they request faster.

    Participation

    The agency open government plans also detail how government officials (without the need for legislation, regulation, or new budgets) are breaking down barriers between government and the public and inviting greater public participation in agency decisionmaking.  For example, the Environmental Protection Agency is making citizen participation in its work the hallmark of its plan.  Planned community engagement projects include everything from urban waters to solid waste and emergency response. U.S. Department of Agriculture is also ramping up its participation efforts in connection with the rules by which the nation plans its national forests. Department of Energy is creating the first ever open energy information platform that not only provisions government data about energy but invites the public to participate and share its data in an effort to create more informed energy usage and promote energy savings. The National Science Foundation’s flagship is to invest in studying citizen participation best practices and thereby help every agency do more participation better!

    Collaboration

    Working together within departments, across agencies and with private sector partners is a fundament of the open government initiative, which looks for strategies to generate creative thinking and new ideas to address complex problems. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), where I am at home, created a new physical office space -- we’ve gotten rid of walls and cubes -- and work in a collaborative physical environment to foster collaboration within OSTP. Department of Housing and Urban Development has committed to a collaborative effort across federal, state, and local government to share information and thereby prevent the spread of homelessness.   NASA has created the contributor license agreement, a special contract to encourage software developers to contribute to ongoing NASA projects and, in turn, have the benefit of access to NASA technologies. This is just one part of NASA’s participatory space exploration efforts that engage the public in the work and the fun of space activities. GSA is making a lot of this collaboration possible by supplying web-based collaboration platforms to every agency that wants one.

    This is just a handful of the many and varied projects underway. Because each agency is doing its own plan, we will get the benefit of distributed innovation. One will try webcasting and another a data transparency initiative and then be able to learn from one another.

    So please dig in! Adopt a plan. Read it. And tell us how we can do things better.  In the process, we hope to reinvigorate a shared sense of civic virtue born out of a common love for this democracy.

    To find a list of all the plans go to: http://www.whitehouse.gov/open/around
    To read highlights of the plans go to: http://www.whitehouse.gov/open/documents/flagship-initiatives

    Beth Noveck is United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Director of the White House Open Government Initiative

  • Making Government Accountable for Openness

    Yesterday, all cabinet agencies, and others including my home, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, reported to the American people detailed plans on how they would demonstrate the President’s vision for a Washington that works -- a government that is more transparent, participatory and collaborative.

    We began this journey on the President’s first full day in office when he signed a Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. By December, following an unprecedented dialogue with the American people in crafting recommendations, Peter Orszag, OMB Director, issued an Open Government Directive directing agencies to reflect the President’s vision in their own words.

    The Directive demanded action measured in weeks, not years. It tasked me, along with my colleague, Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, with holding agencies accountable through the publication of an online dashboard. While today marks the final set of deliverables formally outlined in the Directive, Vivek and I view it as the beginning of our journey to instill these values into the culture of Washington.

    Here’s our plan to do so:

    First, Vivek and I, along with others in the White House, will assess agency Open Government plans against the criteria contained within the Open Government Directive and will publish our findings on the dashboard.

    The results of this assessment will be released by no later than May 1st.  Watch this blog for interim updates as we proceed with the evaluation.

    Second, we also invite you to be a part of the feedback process to the agencies.  We hope and trust that independent experts, stakeholders and the American people will review and comment on the plans, including how they can improve as they are revised moving forward  Please share your thoughts on each agency’s Open Government Plan by visiting the agency websites and providing your comments. Each agency designed their plan to reflect its approach to openness and they and we will actively seek your input as we deliver on the President’s promise to change the way Washington works.

    Third, we and our colleagues will review agency nominations for achievement of leading practices to celebrate outstanding efforts that will inspire others through a “race to the top” among government agencies in the practice of openness.

    As background, a group of agency leaders within the Open Government Working Group, led by Todd Park, the Chief Technology Officer for the Department of Health and Human Services, after consultation with outside experts, developed an aspirational set of Open Government Leading Practices. They focused on four major categories:

    • Leadership, Governance and Culture Change
    • Transparency
    • Participation and Collaboration
    • Flagship Initiative

    By April 19th, agencies will be eligible to nominate specific initiatives within their plan for recognition under Leading Practices. By May 1st, we will recognize agencies on the Open Government Dashboard

    Thanks, in advance, for your participation. You can always send us e-mail at opengov@ostp.gov.

  • Open for Change

    Today, U.S. departments and agencies are releasing their Open Government Plans -- another historic milestone in President Obama's campaign to change Washington.

    For too many years, Washington has resisted the oversight of the American public, resulting in difficulties in finding information, taxpayer dollars disappearing without a trace, and lobbyists wielding undue influence.  For Americans, business as usual in Washington has reinforced the belief that the government benefits the special interests and the well-connected at the expense of the American people.

    No more. Since coming to office, the President has launched a series of initiatives to let the sunshine in, including posting White House visitor records, disclosing lobbyist contacts regarding stimulus funds, and launching data.gov and recovery.gov. That's why independent groups recently gave the Administration an A grade for transparency.

    Today we add to that body of accomplishments as the departments and agencies issue Open Government Plans pursuant to the Open Government Directive. The Plans will make operations and data more transparent, and expand opportunities for citizen participation, collaboration, and oversight. These steps will strengthen our democracy and promote accountability, efficiency and effectiveness across the government. Here are a few highlights:

    • Department of Health and Human Services' Community Health Data Initiative: This initiative will provide to the public, free of charge and of any intellectual property constraint, a large-scale Community Health Data Set harvested from across HHS—this data set includes a wealth of easily accessible, downloadable data on community health care costs, quality, access, and public health, including a major contribution of Medicare-related data from CMS. The initiative is simultaneously working with a growing array of technology companies, researchers, public health advocates, consumer advocates, employers, media, providers, etc. to identify and deploy uses of the data that would be most effective at raising awareness of community health performance and helping to facilitate and inform improvement efforts. Such applications and programs could include interactive health maps, competitions, and social networking games that educate people about community health and enhanced web search results for health searches. By leveraging the power of transparency, participation, and collaboration, the Community Health Data Initiative seeks to help significantly improve the health of our communities. (Department of Health and Human Service's Open Government page)
    • Department of Energy's Open Energy Information Initiative: As part of its efforts to promote clean energy technologies, DOE has launched Open Energy Information, a new open-source web platform that will make DOE resources and open energy data widely available to the public. The data and tools housed on the free, editable and evolving wiki-platform will be used by government officials, the private sector, project developers, the international community, and others to help deploy clean energy technologies across the country and around the world. The site currently houses more than 60 clean energy resources and data sets, including maps of worldwide solar and wind potential, information on climate zones, and best practices. Members of the American public and the energy community globally will have the opportunity to upload additional data to the site and download the information in easy-to-use formats. OpenEI.org will also play an important role providing technical resources, including U.S. lab tools, which can be used by developing countries as they move toward clean energy deployment. Over time, the plan is to expand this portal to include on-line training and technical expert networks. (Department of Energy Open Government page)
    • Department of Veterans Affairs Innovation Initiative:  The VA Innovation Initiative (VAi2) will invite VA employees, private sector entrepreneurs, and academic leaders to contribute the best ideas for innovations to increase Veteran access to VA services, reduce or control costs of delivering those services, enhance the performance of VA operations, and improve the quality of service Veterans and their families receive. The VA Innovation Initiative will identify, prioritize, fund, test, and deploy the most promising solutions to the VA's most important challenges. (Department of Veterans Affairs Open Government page)
    • Department of Housing and Urban Development's Homelessness Prevention Resources Initiative: Many agencies and organizations struggle with the task of capturing information about the homeless. Even more difficult is the task of predicting when and where homelessness will strike. HUD believes that much can be done to avert homelessness before it happens by actively combining information from multiple Agencies and using it to identify communities that may be at a tipping point towards increased levels of homelessness. Aligning with HUD's strategic initiatives, the Department will take a proactive leadership role in the Administration's efforts to end homelessness. HUD will develop a set of tools and processes that can help predict communities that are at risk so that resources can be allocated to help avoid homelessness from occurring. The Department's effort is unique because it will seek to predict the future course of homelessness in a community, and allow HUD to proactively allocate the resources necessary to combat it. (Department of Housing and Urban Development's Open Government page)

    These are just a few examples -- visit our Open Government Dashboard for links to others. Publishing these plans demonstrates once again this Administration's commitment to be the most open and transparent in history. Of course, much work remains to be done and we invite you to be a part of that by visiting the agency websites at name of agency/open and providing your comments on version 1.0 of the plans. That will help us and the agencies make the plans even better.

    Norm Eisen is Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform

  • Aneesh Chopra on Next Steps on Modernizing Government

    On the OSTP blog, United States CTO Aneesh Chopra announces the release of a follow-up plan to the White House Forum on Modernizing Government, identifying areas where private sector best practices have applicability to the Federal Government.