Open Government Initiative Blog

  • 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.
     

  • More Than 250,000 White House Visitor Records Now Online

    In September, the President announced that – for the first time in history – the White House would release visitor records.  Today, the White House releases its largest set of records to date – nearly 120,000 records that were created in December 2009.  This release brings the grand total of records that this White House has released to well over 250,000 records.  You can view them all in our Disclosures section

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

  • Opening Up FDA

    In previous administrations, stakeholders have complained about the FDA’s lack of transparency. The agency used to be considered a "black box" that makes important decisions without explaining them. Following the leadership and commitment of President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to transparent and open government, in June 2009, FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg launched FDA’s Transparency Initiative to make FDA much more transparent to the American public.

    Commissioner Hamburg formed an internal task force representing key leaders of FDA to oversee the initiative. Over the last eight months, the Task Force has held two public meetings, launched an online blog and opened a docket. The online blog and the docket have received over 1,380 comments to date.

    Comments from the public first suggested the idea that FDA provide basic information about the agency in an user-friendly, accessible format. As one person stated, "I would like to see the FDA ‘faces behind the curtain’ and what their jobs are. Who IS the FDA and HOW does it work? Make it simple . . ."

    Early this year, FDA launched a web-based resource called FDA Basics  to provide the public with basic information about FDA and how the agency does its work. FDA Basics now includes:

    1.  115 questions and answers about FDA and the products the agency regulates (for example, see questions about drugs here)
    2.   7 short videos that explain various agency activities (for example, learn how FDA manages product recalls here )
    3. 7 conversations with agency officials about the work of their Offices

    Visitors to FDA Basics can rate on a scale from 1 to 5  how helpful the answers are. And visitors are invited to suggest additional questions as they navigate around the site. We have received nearly 1400 comments since the launch of FDA Basics and are using these comments to update the resource.

    Each month, senior officials from FDA product centers and offices host 30 minute webinars about a specific topic and answer questions from the public about that topic. These sessions are announced on the FDA web site and the online blog.

    The FDA Basics webinar series was launched in February with a webinar on "Access to Investigational Drugs," hosted by FDA’s Office of Special Health Issues. An audio replay  and copy of the PowerPoint slides are available on the FDA Basics web site. The next webinar on FDA's inspection process will be held later this month. Details about the webinar will be available on the FDA Basics homepage.

    Early reaction to FDA Basics has been positive. One blogger wrote, "[t]he initiative can go a long way toward educating the public about what FDA does—and how—and also provide industry with real-time answers to their daily challenges, ultimately improving product quality and patient safety." Another blogger wrote, "[i]t is really well put together, clear and works quite well. . . . The site is not only supportive of transparency, but is highly instructive and educational."

    Check out FDA Basics and let us know what you think.

    Joshua Sharfstein is Principal Deputy Commissioner at FDA and Chair of the Transparency Task Force. Afia Asamoah is a Special Assistant in the Office of the Commissioner and coordinator of the Transparency Initiative.