Open Government Initiative Blog

  • An Open Door to Open Government

    While most of Washington spent the weekend digging out of the snow, federal agencies were taking the next steps in making their work more transparent for the American people.  Since early December, agencies have worked to create their own webpages to serve as the gateway for each agency’s implementation of the Open Government Directive.  These pages all went live this weekend, complete with the latest news and updates, downloadable information 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. 

    Importantly, each of these sites will be the focal point for the agency's open government plans that, after public feedback and suggestion, will make our work across the Administration more accessible to the American people.  That's why each Open Government Webpage incorporates a mechanism to seek your ideas and insights.  Most agencies are leveraging a new, no-cost public engagement app from the General Services Administration that allows them to pay less attention to designing tools and more attention to running, moderating, and analyzing public input.  It will help to make the agency open government pages more effective at turning public suggestions into government actions.
     
    Here at the White House, we're keeping tabs on the agencies’ efforts.  A dashboard – launched this weekend – tracks agency progress toward the goals of the Open Government Directive.  This dashboard will continue to evolve with your feedback.
     
    Since day one, the President has committed his Administration to break down long-standing barriers between the people and their government.  The steps that the agencies are taking are designed to change the culture of government from a closed, opaque structure to one that is more accessible and accountable to citizens.
     
    Check out the agency sites and see their work for yourself.

    Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director

  • Two New Groups Dedicated to Open Government

    In accordance with the Open Government Directive, two working groups have been established to help develop specific actions to implement the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration set forth in the President’s Memorandum of January 21, 2009.

    First, Federal Agencies have designated a high-level senior official to be accountable for the quality of Federal spending information.  In an ongoing commitment to transparency, participation, and collaboration, these senior leaders will work together to ensure that Federal spending information meets adequate controls to ensure quality data is are available to the public.  The senior leaders will also participate in the agency’s Senior Management Council. 

    Second, the White House created a Working Group on January 6 to focus on transparency, accountability, participation, and collaboration within the Federal Government.  With senior-level representation from program and management offices throughout the Government, this group will serve several critical functions.  These functions include (1) the development and sharing of best practices and innovative ideas to promote transparency, encourage participation, and foster collaboration and (2) coordinating efforts to implement existing mandates for Federal spending transparency.

    With representation from across government, the work of these two groups will support Federal Agencies as they encourage transparency, cultivate public participation, and create opportunity for innovative collaborations.

    Vivek Kundra is Chief Information Officer
    Aneesh Chopra is Chief Technology Officer

  • Seeking Game-Changing Solutions to Childhood Obesity

    Cross-posted from the OSTP blog.

    Yesterday the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted a workshop to gather insight from leading experts in the fields of gaming and technology to inform the development of a nutrition game-design challenge. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services is preparing to launch the Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge, a call to American entrepreneurs, software developers, and students to use a recently released USDA nutrition data set to create innovative, fun, and engaging web-based learning applications that motivate kids, especially “tweens” (aged 9-12) and their parents, to eat more healthfully and be more physically active.

    Thirty-one experts joined the meeting—some via teleconference—to offer their knowledge and experience related to game design, entertainment technology, social media, and skill contests, in reaction to a previously circulated concept paper outlining key components of the contest.

    Our intention here is to invite you to join this discussion. Here are some of the major design-related themes, that emerged from the Workshop, around which we’d like to get input from you:

    • Goal: We discussed the potential for games – powered by nutrition data – to change behavior in our target segment (“tweens” between the ages of 9-12 and their parents). Design questions focused on whether the contest should result in a finished, high-impact game or one that continually evolves over time (“gaming as a service”). How would you recommend we address this question in the design of our contest?
    • Incentives: We discussed government limitations on the size of the prize ($3,000 – a purse we’ve awarded in public service announcement contests as well). Design questions focused on the degree to which other stakeholders might supplement the prize with privately raised funds; develop new markets for educational games, including schools, parents, and after-school programs; and recognize finalists at the White House or other venues. What incentives would you recommend we deploy to maximize high quality participation?
    • Final Product: We acknowledged a spectrum of potential final products– including “back of the envelope” ideas, game story boards, working prototypes, and market-ready “final” products. In addition, we discussed the possibility of multiple phases to capture the breadth and quality of potential submissions (perhaps an early round seeking top ideas/story boards to be developed into games in round two). How should we design the competition in a manner that inspires and empowers both professionals willing to volunteer hours to the competition and students willing to build a game that doubles as a semester class assignment? How do we address the myriad game product categories – from casual games to fully developed titles?
    • Your Commitment: A great deal of the conversation focused on how individuals might complement the official competition with commitments they could offer from their respective positions – whether it would be incorporating nutrition data in already-developed games, faculty assigning class time towards building nutrition games, or organizations spreading the word about the contest. How might you be willing to help? Please post any commitments your firm, foundation, school or other organization might be willing to offer as we build a national movement to address childhood obesity.

    Thank you in advance for your ideas on these important questions.

    Aneesh Chopra is Chief Technology Officer of the United States

  • Transparency: The Tale of the Tape

    Now that the Administration has served for more than a year, we are starting to see real progress on the openness and transparency front.  For the most part, we have gotten high marks in this area, but we take exception to the views expressed in a Washington Post story today.

    The Post acknowledges that, in his first full day in office, the President directed federal agencies to become more open, including by applying a presumption of openness to requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act.  The Post questions whether these policies are having a real impact. 

    The numbers demonstrate that they are.  Contrary to the Post's assertions, the amount of litigation is already declining.  The Department of Justice found that 22 fewer FOIA cases were filed in 2009 than 2008.  And agencies are making more voluntary releases of information.  The Department of Justice granted 13 percent more FOIA requests in part in 2009 than it did in the last year of the previous Administration, and granted 5 percent more in full than it did in the previous year.  Those are meaningful increases that illustrate the impact of the Administration’s FOIA policy. 

    The government isn’t just being more open when people ask for information.  At the White House and across the agencies, we are using innovative platforms to engage citizens in shaping government policy.  And in some instances we are taking actions to make government more open and transparent that prevent Americans from needing to file FOIA requests at all.  The President issued an executive order to make it easier for the public to access historic records that are currently classified but no longer need to be kept secret to protect national security.  Data.gov now hosts over 1,000 sets of government information available for download, and agencies' websites are being constantly updated to include more content.  And for the first time in history, the White House is voluntarily publishing visitor records online – enabling the American people to see who is visiting the people's house.  Click here for a list of our open government accomplishments so far.

    We did this in the first year of the Administration, even though some said it would be impossible to change entrenched governmental practices on an issue like FOIA.  We recognize that this is just a start, and that there is much more work to be done.  Change takes time and persistence, and we expect government to become even more open in the years to come.  But we know we have established a firm foundation and we are moving in the right direction.

    Norm Eisen is special counsel to the President for ethics and government reform

  • How "Open Gov" Datasets Affect Parents and Consumers

    On December 8, 2009, the Administration issued the Open Government Directive to hardwire the values of transparency, participation and collaboration into the DNA of the Federal government.  Around here, we call the general effort "Open Gov." You can learn more about it here: WhiteHouse.gov/open.

    As part of the Directive, federal agencies have answered the President’s call by democratizing hundreds of high-value datasets on every aspect of government operations.  While this is meaningful for the technology community and transparency advocates who have been working on this issue for years, the data released will have direct impact on the daily lives of the American people.  Here are three examples to consider:

    • Parents can make better decisions when buying a car seat for their newborn because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released data rating child safety seats for ease of use, simplicity of instructions and vehicle installation features
    • Consumers can make intelligent decisions when buying a car because the Department of Transportation released details behind automobile safety and crash ratings gathered during crash and rollover tests conducted at their research facilities
    • As Norm Eisen mentioned in his earlier post (which has a few other good examples), entrepreneurs, researchers and healthcare professionals can access Medicare Part B data to analyze the cost, volume and types of services delivered to meet the needs of Medicare beneficiaries because the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has released data that used to cost $100 and was delivered on CD-ROM, for free via Data.gov

    The Obama Administration is committed to unlocking public data to drive innovation by tapping into the ingenuity of the American people; increase agency accountability; and change the default setting of Washington to be open, transparent and participatory.  For far too long, government data has been locked within the four walls of Washington and confined to a selected group of people. President Obama has said, “information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset.”  This is why, on his first full day in office, the President charged agencies to harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online.

    To institutionalize a culture of open government, on February 6 we will launch a public dashboard to provide an ongoing assessment of the Executive Branch’s progress against the Directive.  You'll be able to find that at WhiteHouse.gov/open.

    Vivek Kundra is the Federal Chief Information Officer

  • Another Milestone In Making Government More Accessible and Accountable

    If you visit data.gov, you’ll find a wide array of new, high-value datasets that federal agencies have uploaded pursuant to the Open Government Directive.  This information serves two valuable functions.  First, it facilitates private innovation by allowing entrepreneurs, scientists, and others to utilize raw data to build new services and conduct insightful studies that serve Americans.  Second, citizens will also be able to use this data to hold government accountable—again, so it can better serve the people. 

    For example, the Department of Education posted two data sets that will enable parents to better understand education outcomes and financing.  The TIMSS 2007 Public-Use Datafile is a school- based assessment that provides descriptive data on the educational outcomes of U.S. fourth- and eighth-graders in mathematics and science.  And the CCD: School District Financial Survey collects data on revenues and expenditures for each public, elementary and secondary education school district in the United States.  Releasing data like this allows parents and teachers to ensure that their tax dollars are being well used and to track the progress of American STEM education.

    Another important example is the Medicare Part B Extract Summary System Data.  This dataset from the Department of Health and Human Services provides detailed breakdowns of volume of physician services delivered to Medicare beneficiaries and payments for those services by individual procedure code (e.g., by type of anesthesiology service, cardiology service, etc.).  This data can be used to look at patterns of Medicare spending and analyze the types of services delivered to address the health needs of the Medicare population.  Researchers and others used to have to pay to get this on a CD-ROM – now it can be downloaded for free at data.gov.

    Here’s one last example of how we are helping you hold government accountable.  The Social Security Administration posted two data sets – Hearing Office Average Processing Time Ranking Report and Hearing Office Dispositions Per ALJ Per Day Rate Ranking Report.  They give you information on how long it takes different parts of the country to process social security adjudications.  You’ll be able to tell how your area is doing, and give the Administration feedback and direction in that regard. And we hope you will.

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