Open Government Initiative Blog

  • 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.

  • Getting Outside the Four Walls of Washington

    I just returned from a productive trip to the West Coast, where I met with technology innovators from the private sector and state and local governments to hear their ideas about how the Federal Government can leverage the power of technology to deliver better results for the American people. As I’ve said before, the Federal Government does not have a monopoly on the best ideas, and in order to truly change business as usual here in Washington --  we’ve got to look beyond the Beltway.

    Vivek Kundra and Mayor Gavin NewsomThe Obama Administration is committed to making the Federal Government work better for the American people.  Closing the technology gap between the private and public sectors is essential to delivering the best results possible.  That is why I returned to the West Coast to continue to meet with leaders who have taken innovative steps and implemented bold strategies to drive progress and productivity.

    The power of raw data to provide consumers with relevant information and inform their decisions is already being realized. For example, as I was heading to the airport, I used “FlyOnTime.us” to check if my flight was on time and to see what the wait in line would be. This innovative website was created by a group of independent developers using Data.gov

    My first stop was San Francisco, where I joined Mayor Gavin Newsom and city CIO Chris Vein for the launch of the nationwide Open311 API (Application Programming Interface) initiative, which will open up access to local government services across the country. Open311 will enable people to track the status of repairs or improvements, while also allowing them to make new requests for services. For example, I can use the same application when I am home in Washington, DC to report a broken parking meter as I would in San Francisco. I also spoke to CIOs from Boston, Chicago, DC, Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Francisco about accelerating the development of applications that the American people can use in their everyday lives.

    From downtown San Francisco, it was out to Silicon Valley to meet with venture capitalists and technology innovators, including Mint.com, Mozilla, and Facebook, at IDEO Labs to discuss how government can improve how it is delivering services to the American people. We used a visual storyboard concept to capture our conversation, which you can see here.

    Later that afternoon, I met with companies like Apple and Google to learn how innovation is happening in the consumer space, through new platforms such as Apple’s online App Store.

    On Thursday, I travelled to the “other” Washington, where I started the day with CIOs from organizations such as Weyerhaeuser and Microsoft to hear about how they successfully manage large-scale IT projects. I also had the opportunity to look at some of the impressive investments in next generation technologies being made by companies like Microsoft and Amazon.

    I then delivered a speech at the University of Washington titled “Making Government Work: Closing the Technology Gap to Deliver for the American People.” I was very encouraged by the response and was pleasantly surprised when following my speech, dozens of professors and students lined up to ask questions and continue the dialogue. 

    Vivek Kundra at the Western Technology Industry Association Awards

    At the end of the day, I attended an industry awards celebration for local technology entrepreneurs, hosted by the Washington Technology Industry Association. It was great to see entrepreneurs from the “other” Washington talk to me about their ideas for helping us change the way Washington, DC works.

    Vivek Kundra is U.S. Chief Information Officer
     

  • Open 311

    I’m on the road today, joining San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco CIO Chris Vein for an event to highlight San Francisco’s Open 311 API (Application Programming Interface) initiative.  This is a great approach that ties together efforts in San Francisco, Boston, the District of Columbia, Portland, and Los Angeles to open more services to citizens, and to use data to drive progress in people’s lives. Too often, people grumble that their complaints about government – be it city, county, state, or federal – get swallowed by the bureaucracy.  Open 311 is an answer to that problem, placing the role of service evaluator and service dispatcher in the power of citizens’ hands.  Through this approach, new web applications can mash publicly available, real-time data from the cities to allow people to track the status of repairs or improvements, while also allowing them to make new requests for services.  For instance, I can use the same application to report a broken parking meter when I'm home in the District of Columbia or traveling to cities like Portland, Los Angeles, Boston, or San Francisco.  This is the perfect example of how government is simplifying access to citizen services. Open 311 is an innovation that will improve people’s lives and make better use of taxpayer dollars. 

    The event which will take place at the 311 Customer Service Center in San Francisco, California will be streamed live below starting at 2:30 p.m. EST/11:30 a.m. PST.

    UPDATE: This event has concluded, but you can watch it in its entirety by clicking here.

    Vivek Kundra is U.S. Chief Information Officer

  • Make Your Voice Heard

    On February 6, the White House Open Government Initiative launched a government wide public participation opportunity unprecedented in the history of our democracy. As part of the Open Government Directive issued in early December, every major agency published an open government website. These pages went live in early February complete with the latest news and updates, downloadable data unique to that agency, and information about how each agency is moving to implement the President’s call for a more transparent, participatory, and collaborative government. These new websites also incorporate a mechanism for online civic engagement.

    These websites will be most effective with broad input from as many members of the public as possible visiting these sites and providing feedback on the development of each agency’s open government plan, including ideas for how to make the agency more effective and efficient and suggestions for data that should be published online.  These public brainstorms utilize similar free, easy-to-use tools as the White House used in soliciting public engagement in developing its open government agenda. People can post an idea, comment on the ideas of others, and rate and rank ideas to provide the agency with an ordered list of categorized suggestions. This is the first time something like this has been tried across the entire executive branch and we are eager to solicit input.

    Now through March 19th, the American people can make a difference by logging on to each agency’s open government page and making your voices heard. We hope you will assist us in this historic effort to bridge the gap between citizens and their government.  It would be particularly helpful for you to provide specific suggestions for what agencies should include in required elements of their plans.  These elements include a strategic action plan to improve transparency, as well as agency proposals to use technology platforms and other innovative methods (e.g., prizes and competition) to improve collaboration. 

    Start participating today – visit one or more of these websites and provide feedback:

    To see the tops ideas across government, visit OpenGovTracker.com or view the agency contact information for a complete list of all agencies, their contact information, their dialog tool URLs and RSS feeds, and other ways for the public to submit ideas. Ideas and comments that are submitted via email, phone, or other means will be posted on the agency's dialog site by moderators. That will allow others to comment and vote on these ideas.

    This is only the latest effort by the Administration to make the government more transparent.  Our other concrete commitments to openness include issuing the Open Government Directive, putting up more government information than ever before on data.gov and recovery.gov, reforming the government’s FOIA processes, providing on-line access to White House staff financial reports and salaries, issuing an executive order to fight unnecessary secrecy and speed declassification, reversing an executive order that previously limited access to presidential records, and webcasting White House meetings and conferences. The release also compliments our new lobbying rules, which in addition to closing the revolving door for lobbyists who work in government have also emphasized expanding disclosure of lobbyist contacts with the government.  And the President capped the year off by calling in the State of the Union for bold transparency initiatives (pdf) as part of his reform agenda for 2010 and the years ahead.

    Tina Tchen is Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Public Engagement
     

     

     

  • Evolving the Open Government Dashboard with You

    Countless entrepreneurs have taught us that the key to success is to execute quickly, seek feedback from the market, and iterate.  We have taken this lesson to heart and think it especially apt in our work to increase transparency, participation, and collaboration in government.  Therefore it is with great pleasure that – after just 60 days - U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra and I unveil what we call Version 1.0 of the Open Government Dashboard and look forward to building it together with all of you.  By way of this blog post, we hope to tell you a little bit about what we’ve done so far and what to expect in the weeks ahead.

    Version 1.0 of the Dashboard focuses on agency execution of the deliverables explicitly identified in the Open Government Directive.  It makes it easy for the American people to visually track progress on the deadlines to date.  The Dashboard also links to each agency's Open Government Webpage, where the public can find more details on the steps taken to implement the Directive. Just look for the words "Evaluating our Progress."

    The next big step will be to evaluate the agencies' Open Government Plans, due April 7th.  Whereas the indicators have been largely binary thus far (e.g. Do you have an Open Government Webpage?), the Plans present a special opportunity for the Dashboard to evolve over time and empower the public while spurring a race to the top amongst agencies. We share your feedback that the agency plans are the most consequential deliverable required by the Directive, as they promise to hardwire greater transparency, participation, and collaboration into the culture of every agency. As such, the Open Government Working Group is preparing a set of "stretch criteria" to help evaluate the plans and celebrate those agencies that exceed the minimal requirements of the Directive to reflect the President's vision of openness and accountability as articulated in the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. We are eager to seek your input in this process, so keep an eye out for opportunities to weigh in over the next two weeks.

    After agencies have successfully delivered on the demanding deadlines set out for the first 120 days, Version 2.0 of the Dashboard can deploy a more holistic set of metrics, informed by agency Plans.  Identifying the right set of metrics will help steer agencies toward high-impact efforts in the years to come.  Some of you have already shared your thoughts with us and we look forward to hearing from may more of you in the coming months.

    Thank you for helping us make this a success.
     
    Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer