Open Government Initiative Blog

  • "Very High Grades" for Change

    Cross-posted from the White House blog.

    Here at the White House, we think the Administration has had a remarkable first year making our government more accessible and accountable, including reducing special interest influence in Washington.  Today, a group of government reform organizations issued a report card on our first year– and they agree that "President Obama deserves recognition and high praise for the ethics, lobbying and transparency rules put in place for the Executive Branch during his first year in office."

    The authors of the report are Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters and U.S. PIRG.  They write that "The cumulative effect of the Administration’s actions has been to adopt the strongest and most comprehensive lobbying, ethics and transparency rules and policies ever established by an Administration to govern its own activities."  The report recognizes the following milestones (among others):

    • The President's revolving door lobbying ban for officials leaving government is "the most-far reaching ever adopted."  Grade:  A
    • The President's "reverse" revolving door rules for officials entering government are the "first-ever" and "innovative." Grade:  A
    • The President's open government initiatives are "unprecedented" and "go well beyond any efforts undertaken by previous administrations."  Grade A.

    That’s not to say we agree with everything in the report (or for that matter, that the authors of the report agree with every single thing we have done).  There is plenty of room for honest debate about how best to fight special interests and make government more open and accountable.  But the President has made doing that a priority, the entire Administration has worked very hard to deliver, and we are pleased that folks can see that “These new rules and policies have begun the difficult process of changing the way business is done in Washington.”

    There is of course much work yet to be done--and we will continue working for real change in 2010 and beyond to make government truly accessible and accountable.  We welcome the participation and collaboration of the American people in that vital work.

    Incidentally, Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and I will be holding a live video chat on Thursday to talk about the last year and to look ahead regarding the President's efforts to change the way Washington works.  We hope you'll come back to and join us.

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

  • Celebrating Innovation at the Consumer Electronics Show

    Ed. Note: Get a firsthand account of Aneesh’s experience at CES as he walked the floor with the Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang; his conversation on innovation with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo and our efforts to promote open government with Fox Business’ Shibani Joshi.

    Yesterday, I joined over 100,000 tech enthusiasts to celebrate the next wave of consumer electronics innovations at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show. The energy level throughout the convention was high and firms reflected confidence that economic growth will return to the sector in 2010. I thought to share a few summary notes on what I’ve learned during my visit:

    1. Open Government a Global Movement: During my remarks at CES Government, I was joined by London Mayor Boris Johnson live via weblink who announced the “London Datastore." He kindly acknowledged President Obama for inspiring this movement through our Open Government Initiative and more specifically, our portal that today includes 118,000 publicly-available data sets for free public use. A great deal of the new consumer products showcased  at CES featured apps that would improve our quality of life through the television, mobile phone, car, and a growing number of Internet-enabled devices. We are hopeful entrepreneurs will develop new apps built with government data for use across all of these exciting new products. For example, the “Innovations for Healthy Kids Game Challenge” is an opportunity for gamers to build apps targeting “tweens” to inspire healthier eating habits and help to address our growing childhood obesity problem.
    2. Innovation at the Center of Consumer Electronics: Touring the Show floor was a particularly exciting endeavor as rows upon rows of new technologies that have the potential to dramatically lower the costs of innovations for national priorities like healthcare, education and energy efficiency. For example, one of the television manufacturers demonstrated a Skype application that could simplify how a patient might communicate with a physician from the comfort of their own living room, without the need to purchase additional equipment. Similarly, a number of home networking devices, when informed by energy usage made available th hrough the smart grid, could send alerts when it might be advantageous to turn down the thermostat.
    3. University Innovators Meet Consumer Product Developers: One of the more exciting stops on the show floor was my visit with Carnegie Mellon’s affiliated “Quality of Life Technology Center," a National Science Foundation “Engineering Research Center”. Students, staff and faculty demonstrated early prototypes of some incredible inventions that were available for companies to license and commercialize. We held a vest that was designed to help those with hearing disabilities still enjoy the joys of music by translating the sounds into pulses one could feel. We walked through a prototype living room designed for disabled veterans capable of connecting them with physicians and adjusting their room experiences based on programmable conditions.


    Overall, my trip served as a reminder that a great deal of our nation’s innovation capacity begins with basic research & development we fund across our world-class universities and federal labs, continues through the hard work of entrepreneurs toiling away to design the “next big thing”, and leads to break-through innovations to address our nation’s most pressing challenges in bending the healthcare cost curve and improving energy efficiency. These concepts are more fully explored in the President’s Strategy for American Innovation. We welcome your comments and feedback as we work towards a more innovative economy in the months and years ahead.

    Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer 

  • Policy Forum on Public Access to Federally Funded Research: Phase III Wrap-Up

    Cross-posted from the OSTP blog.

    Today we have reached the end of Phase Three of our public access policy forum.

    We sincerely thank every one of you for taking the time to provide such valuable commentary on this topic. As previously mentioned, due to the busy holiday season we will be re-opening the forum for a two-week bonus session beginning immediately. In this final session we will be soliciting comments on all the topics discussed in the three previous phases, and may periodically ask during the course of these two weeks that participants focus on a few key issues that we feel warrant additional attention.

    Phase Three focused on management—particularly how to ensure compliance, how to accurately measure success, and the Federal government’s role in guaranteeing the most effective public access policy.

    One clear theme throughout your comments was the need for a public access policy that is simple and could be implemented quickly. You discussed the drawbacks to a policy process that “sacrifices the good for the sake of the perfect” and encouraged even partial steps that would take the process in the direction of greater access. In terms of compliance, the majority of you focused on the need for a clear mandate that is uniform across agencies. Some suggested the use of monetary sanctions for noncompliance, or withholding future funds for a particular research area until the requirements are met. You said uniform standards across agencies would streamline the submission process.

    Many of you provided examples of organizations that could serve as models with regard to evaluation processes. Some suggested measuring federally-funded research citations, or tracking the number of views or hits that each submission receives. Others thought a better metric would be to determine how improved access to electronic resources leads to greater overall productivity, and suggested tracking the requests for certain datasets and then analyzing the product that results.

    Finally, you engaged in a great discussion concerning the role of the Federal government. Most of you agreed that the government’s main role is to ensure compliance, but you also cautioned that a burdensome compliance mechanism could be counterproductive. Another theme of the discussion was the need for a centralized depository location. Though some of you suggested using university libraries as a depository, the overall consensus seemed to lean toward the belief that this format would be unduly burdensome on universities. Many of you commented that creating one site where researchers may click and deposit their work is the most efficient way to ensure not only compliance but also the greatest degree of public access. One idea was to house a long-term repository within the Library of Congress, which would accept and store articles and make them available to the public.

    Once again thank you to all who participated; your comments and suggestions are genuinely appreciated. Now, for those of you who have been caught up with the holidays or have simply procrastinated, please take some time to share your thoughts on the OSTP blog as we extend this public forum through January 14th.

  • Policy Forum on Public Access to Federally Funded Research: Management

    Cross-posted from the OSTP blog.

    Happy New Year! On this first day of 2010, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is launching Phase Three of our Public Access Policy Forum. The forum asks scientists, primary and secondary publishers, librarians, universities, researchers, students, and the public to help us understand when and how research articles – funded by taxpayers but with value added by scholarly publishers – should be made freely available on the internet.

    Over the past three weeks, we have broken down the broader question into focused topics. In Phase One, the public weighed in on which agencies should enact public access policies and how those public policies should be designed. But, access demands not only availability, but also meaningful usability. In Phase Two, participants provided insight on how the Federal government can make its collections of peer-reviewed papers more useful to the American public. Thank you again for your terrific comments on both of these topic areas, especially over the busy holiday season. For those of you who are new to the forum, you can review the full set of blog postings and public comments here.

    Today, our discussion turns to questions of management. Phase Three will run through Thursday, January 7, 2010. Between now and then, we would like for you to address the following questions:

    • Compliance. What features does a public access policy need to ensure compliance? Should this vary across agencies?
    • Evaluation. How should an agency determine whether a public access policy is successful? What measures could agencies use to gauge whether there is increased return on federal investment gained by expanded access?
    • Roles. How might a public private partnership promote robust management of a public access policy? Are there examples already in use that may serve as models? What is the best role for the Federal government?

    We invite your comments and in particular encourage you to be specific in your thoughts and proposals, providing empirical data and specific supporting examples whenever possible so this discussion can generate maximum practical value. You may want to start by reading a more complete description of this issue as it appeared in the Federal Register.

    Importantly, this is a community-moderated blog. That means we count on you to keep the forum focused and on-topic—something you can do by “voting” on comments. Voting is an expression of how germane to the topic a comment is. Voting up a comment expresses approval of the relevance. If enough people vote down a comment, the comment in question “collapses” into a link so that it doesn’t interrupt the flow of discussion. Please read the complete Terms of Participation, where you can also learn how to “flag” comments such as spam or obscenities that violate the Terms.

    We welcome your thoughtful comments in this open and participatory forum.

    You can comment on this post at the OSTP blog.

    Diane DiEuliis, Assistant Director, Life Sciences, Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • Policy Forum on Public Access to Federally Funded Research: Phase Two Wrap-Up

    Cross-posted from the OSTP blog.

    Today marks the final day of Phase Two of our public access policy forum.

    Thank you to everyone who shared thoughts and ideas about the technologies and features that will best promote public access. As we know it is difficult to find extra time to provide commentary during the holiday season, we greatly appreciated the extensive comments, links and data. In order to make sure that everyone has a meaningful opportunity to weigh in, we will be revisiting these topics during a bonus comment period in January.

    Phase Two sparked a dynamic discussion of the technological specifications that would best serve public access. Participants analyzed the relative benefits and disadvantages of a wide range of formats, noting that some would make it easier to search while others may facilitate submission – and therefore compliance. Many participants pointed to the benefits of enabling public feedback on submitted articles, but disagreed upon whether moderation would of such input would foster or impede a productive discussion between participants. In terms of metrics, some suggested the simplest way to measure success would be to quantify the number of submissions freely available as well as the number of downloads or page views. By providing hyperlinks throughout their comments, many participants showed us some of the best examples of usability known to date. Thank you! Still others ventured beyond today’s needs to suggest the challenges and opportunities the future may bring to public access endeavors. Overall, participants underscored the importance of simplicity - in terms of standards, flexibility, and adaptability to evolving technologies.

    Tomorrow, the new year will usher in Phase Three of the public access policy forum. Phase III will focus on Management and run through Thursday, January 7th. After Phase III draws to a close, we will carefully read and process your comments in preparation for the two-week extension to our blog schedule.

    Again, we will be using those final two weeks to revisit, on a more detailed level, all three focus areas that you will have addressed — and we may ask you to delve deeper into a few specific areas for which we’d like a more detailed discussion.

    Thanks again to all of you for your continued diligence and participation, especially over the busy holiday season. We look forward to your continued commentary into the New Year!

    You can comment on this post at the OSTP blog.

    Diane DiEuliis, Assistant Director, Life Sciences, Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • More than 25,000 Additional White House Visitor Records Posted Online

    Cross-posted from the White House blog

    President Obama ordered earlier this year that in December the White House would -- for the first time in history -- begin posting White House visitor records as provided in our new voluntary disclosure policy. Today we are delivering on that commitment by posting more than 25,000 records created between Sept 16 and Sept 30. The volume is enormous because we are not just answering specific requests for records -- we are disclosing thousands of folks who come and go here daily. We will do this on a monthly basis, with the records for the full month of October being posted in 30 days.

    This release represents a milestone in the President's commitment to change Washington. The President believes that this and our many other transparency initiatives promote accountability and keep American democracy vital. 

    We are excited about the visitor records policy not only because we are breaking new ground for this Administration but also because we are establishing a new standard for all future administrations. We know of no comparable initiative in the history of the White House. Indeed, previous Administrations fought for years to protect just a handful of records -- far less than we are putting out for any single day of the month.

    Today’s release also includes visitor information for the Vice President and his staff at the White House Complex.  Consistent with the voluntary disclosure policy, the Office of the Vice President is releasing the names and dates of visitors to the Vice President’s Residence for official events between Sept 16 and Sept 30, and the visitors to the Residence who appear on the daily schedules of the Vice President and Dr. Biden.  At this time, it is not possible to release visitor information for the Vice President’s Residence in an identical format to the White House Complex because the Residence is not equipped with the WAVES system that is in place at the White House Complex.  The Vice President’s staff is working with the Secret Service to upgrade the visitor records system at the Residence.  When the electronic update is complete, visitor information for the White House Complex and the Residence will be released in a common format. 

    In addition, we are also today releasing close to 2,000 pre-Sept 16 records in response to specific requests. As part of our new initiative, we offered to look back at the records created before the announcement of the policy and answer specific requests for visitor records created earlier in the year.   Today’s production of records is in response to nearly 700 requests from the public during the month of November. Those requests have yielded close to 2000 responsive records that span the time period between January 20, 2009 and September 15, 2009. All of these have been added to the online database of published visitor records in an accessible, searchable format for anyone to browse or download. 

    Today’s release builds upon the previous series of visitor record disclosures.  In October the White House released close to 500 records in response to 110 requests that were received throughout September.  In November, the White House released 1,600 records in response to nearly 300 individual requests received from the public in October. You can view them all here.

    As you review this month’s release you will notice that the records presentation is slightly different.  Thanks to many of your suggestions, we have made some improvements that will hopefully make this information easier to use.  However, the raw data remains the same and you can access that information by downloading the csv file in full.

    Today’s release is only one example of the many steps the President has taken to increase government transparency over the past year. This Administration’s concrete commitments to openness include issuing the Open Government Directive, putting up more government information than ever before on and, reforming the government’s FOIA processes, providing on-line access to White House staff financial reports and salaries, adopting a tough new state secrets policy, 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.

    As before, some of the most frequent White House visitors in today's release are Administration officials who come to the White House as part of their daily work. For example, Matthew Yale and Doug O’Brien both visit the White House frequently as part of their agency responsibilities.

    Also, as we have previously noted, sometimes rather than providing clear information, transparency can have confusing or amusing results. Given the significant number of visitors to the White House, many visitors share the same name. Today's release includes the names of some notable figures (for example, yet another William Ayers record appears in this disclosure). The well-known individual with that name has not visited the White House, but we have included the record of the individual that did.

    Lastly, we are still processing a small set of the September records to ensure that their release will not compromise national security.  We expect to conclude this review shortly and will release any additional records with next month’s posting.

    Happy New Year!

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