Open Government Initiative Blog

  • 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

  • Promoting Openness and Accountability by Making Classification a Two-Way Street

    Cross-posted from the White House blog

    President Obama has issued a new executive order on “Classified National Security Information” (the Order) that addresses the problem of over-classification in numerous ways and will allow researchers to gain timelier access to formerly classified records.   Among the major changes are the following:

    • It establishes a National Declassification Center at the National Archives to enable agency reviewers to perform collaborative declassification in accordance with priorities developed by the Archivist with input from the general public.
    • For the first time, it establishes the principle that no records may remain classified indefinitely and provides enforceable deadlines for declassifying information exempted from automatic declassification at 25 years.
    • For the first time, it requires agencies to conduct fundamental classification guidance reviews to ensure that classification guides are up-to-date and that they do not require unnecessary classification.
    • It eliminates an Intelligence Community veto of certain decisions by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel that was introduced in the Bush order.

    While the Government must be able to prevent the public disclosure of information that would compromise the national security, a democratic government accountable to the people must be as transparent as possible and must not withhold information for self-serving reasons or simply to avoid embarrassment. 

    President Obama’s new Order strikes a careful balance between protecting essential secrets and ensuring the release of once sensitive information to the public as quickly and as fully as possible.  It also comes after extensive online engagement with the public where more than 150 detailed and helpful comments from various stakeholders were received through the White House website.

    This new Order replaces Executive Order 12958 that was issued by President Clinton in 1995 and later amended by President Bush in 2003.  The President also issued a memorandum to heads of departments and agencies that directs additional steps agencies should take as they implement the Order.

    On January 21, 2009, President Obama signed a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies, calling for the Government to become more transparent and collaborative.  In a May 27 memorandum, he directed the National Security Advisor to lead a review of EO 12958 and recommend revisions that improve transparency, openness, and interagency collaboration in the Government’s treatment of national security information.  The May 27 memorandum identified six priorities for this review: 

    (i)    establishing a National Declassification Center (NDC) to facilitate collaborative declassification review among government officials;
    (ii)    addressing the problem of over-classification;
    (iii)    facilitating the sharing of classified information among appropriate parties;
    (iv)    appropriately prohibiting reclassification of previously declassified material;
    (v)    specifying appropriate procedures for classification, safeguarding, accessibility, and declassification of information in the electronic environment; and
    (vi)    otherwise improving openness and transparency in the Government’s classification and declassification program, while affording necessary protection to the Government’s legitimate interests. 

    The new Order takes numerous steps to address the six priorities set forth in the President’s May 27 memorandum.  First, the Order establishes the NDC within the National Archives to streamline declassification processes, facilitate quality-assurance measures, and implement standardized training regarding the declassification of records determined to have permanent historical value.  The Archivist of the United States will develop priorities for declassification activities under the NDC’s purview, with input from the general public and after taking into account researcher interest and the likelihood of declassification. 

    Second, the Order takes steps to address the problem of over-classification.  It greatly strengthens the requirements for training and oversight of all original classification authorities and the much larger number of derivative classifiers.  It also directs that information not be classified (or be classified at a lower level) when “significant doubt” exists about the need to classify it.  The new EO also tightens the standards for keeping information classified for more than 25 years. 

    Third, the Order facilitates greater sharing of classified information among appropriate parties, including State, local, and tribal governments.  It calls for the greatest possible access to classified information by authorized persons.  The Order also significantly modifies the “third agency rule” to permit re-dissemination of classified documents by receiving agencies without the approval of the originating agency, except when the originating agency has indicated on the documents that such prior approval is required.

    Fourth, the Order significantly tightens restrictions on reclassification of information after its declassification and release under proper authority, particularly with respect to records that are in the legal custody of the National Archives.  Fifth, the Order enhances the appropriate classification and declassification of electronic information by mandating the use of standardized electronic protocols and formats.

    Finally, the new Order adopts a number of additional changes in standards, procedures, and deadlines designed to promote greater openness and transparency in the Federal Government’s classification and declassification programs.  For example, it directs agencies to align their declassification activities with the priorities established by the NDC and strengthens the standards agencies must meet to exempt any record from automatic declassification at 25 years. 

    The Implementation Memorandum.  The supplemental memorandum directs the heads of executive departments and agencies to take certain actions to implement more effectively the classification and declassification procedures established by the new Order.  The memorandum instructs the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office to publish a periodic status report on agency implementation of the Order. 

    The memorandum also directs agencies, under the direction of the NDC, to take steps to eliminate the backlog of more than 400 million pages of accessioned Federal records previously subject to automatic declassification in order to permit public access to these records no later than December 31, 2013. 

    In addition, the memorandum stresses the principle that delegations of original classification authority must be held to the minimum necessary to implement the EO.  These delegations should be made only to those individuals or positions with a demonstrable and continuing need to exercise original classification authority.
    Lastly, in order to promote new technologies to support declassification, the memorandum directs the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence to support research to assist the NDC in addressing cross-agency challenges associated with declassification.

    Here are some other changes in the executive order that advance the President’s agenda of greater openness and transparency:

    1.    Establish a National Declassification Center (NDC) – Section 3.7

    • Establishes a National Declassification Center at the National Archives where agency reviewers will perform collaborative declassification review of archival records, under the administration of a Director appointed by the Archivist in consultation with his counterparts at the major national security departments.
    • The general functions of the Center shall apply to all archival records, regardless of whether they have yet been accessioned into the National Archives, and all referral processing of accessioned records shall take place under the direction of the Center.
    • Agencies will review archival records in accordance with priorities developed by the Archivist, with input from the general public, that take into account the level of researcher interest and the likelihood of declassification.

    2.    Take Effective Measures to Address the Problem of Over-Classification

    • Provides that no information may remain classified indefinitely.  Section 1.5(d)
    • Emphasizes the requirement to identify describable damage to the national security before classifying information.  Section 1.4
    • Restores the presumption against classification and in favor of a lower level of classification in cases of “significant doubt.”  Sections 1.1(b) and 1.2(c)
    • Requires agencies to conduct fundamental classification guidance reviews to ensure that classification guides and other guidance reflect current conditions and to identify information that can be declassified.  An unclassified version of a report on such reviews shall be made public by each agency.  Section 1.9
    • Mandates a review by all departments and agencies to ensure that delegations of original classification authority are as limited as possible. Presidential Memorandum
    • Tightens the standards for keeping information classified for more than 25 years.  Sections 3.3(b) and 3.3(h)
    • Greatly strengthens requirements for the training of all original classification authorities (OCAs) and the much larger number of derivative classifiers.  Sections 1.3(d) and 2.1(d)
    • Adds a requirement to identify derivative classifiers by name or personal identifier on each document they derivatively classify.  Section 2.1(b)(1)
    • Mandates that agency self-inspection programs shall review original and derivative classification decisions and correct misclassification actions appropriately.   Section 5.4(d)(4)
    • Directs agency heads to establish an internal, secure capability to receive complaints regarding over-classification and to provide guidance to personnel.  Section 5.4(d)(10)

    3.    Facilitate Greater Sharing of Classified Information Among Appropriate Parties

    • Revises the Preamble to emphasize “the responsibility to provide information both within the government and to the American people.”
    • Calls for maximum possible access to classified information by persons who meet standard criteria for access.  Section 4.1(a)
    • Calls for the greatest practicable use of standardized electronic protocols and formats in order to maximize the accessibility and safeguarding of classified electronic information.  Section 4.1(f)
    • Modifies the “third agency rule” to authorize re-dissemination of classified materials by third agencies, except in limited exceptional cases, without the approval of the originating agency.   Section 4.1(i)
    • Revises the definition of “need-to-know” to shift the focus to prospective recipients with a mission need for information rather than a determination made by “owners” of the information.  Section 6.2(dd)
    • Mandates the use of classified addendums or unclassified versions of documents whenever possible to facilitate greater information sharing.  Section 1.6(g)

    4.    Appropriately Prohibit Reclassification of Information

    • Prohibits the reclassification of information after its declassification and release under proper authority except when agencies can comply with significantly tightened restrictions, particularly regarding records that have been accessioned into the National Archives.  Section 1.7(c)

    5.    Enhance Appropriate Classification and Declassification of Electronic Information

    • Calls for the greatest possible use of standardized electronic protocols and formats.  Section 4.1(f)
    • Directs the NDC to develop solutions to challenges posed by electronic records, special media, and emerging technologies.  Section 3.7(b)(5)
    • Directs the linkage and effective utilization of existing databases and the use of new technologies to support declassification activities under the purview of the NDC.  Section 3.7(b)(6)
    • Calls for advanced research to identify ways of utilizing electronic technology to assist the NDC in addressing cross-agency challenges associated with declassification.  Presidential Memorandum

    6.    Take Other Steps Necessary to Provide Greater Openness and Transparency in the Government’s Classification and Declassification Programs

    • Sets deadlines for the declassification and release of an existing backlog of some 400 million pages of records previously subject to automatic declassification, which includes archival records related to military operations during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.  Presidential Memorandum
    • Eliminates the Intelligence Community veto of declassification decisions made by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) regarding intelligence sources and methods.  Section 5.3(f)
    • Strengthens the standards that agencies must meet to exempt any records from automatic declassification at 25 years.  Section 3.3(h)
    • Identifies with greater specificity information that can be exempted from automatic declassification because it relates to intelligence sources and methods or military war plans.  Section 3.3(b)
    • Requires specific deadlines for the declassification of information exempted from automatic declassification at 25 years and prohibits classification beyond 75 years except in extraordinary cases and as approved by ISCAP.  Section 3.3(h)
    • Directs that the review of third agency referrals subject to automatic declassification shall be performed in a prioritized manner determined by the NDC rather than according to a rigid schedule.  Sections 3.3(d)(3), 3.7(b)(1), and 3.7(d)
    • Directs agencies to consider final decisions of the ISCAP when making declassification decisions.  Section 3.1(i)
    • Provides guidance for the first time regarding the declassification of non-archival and non-record material.  Section 3.1(h)
    • Limits the time span of records that may be included in a single integral file block for declassification purposes.  Section 6.1(v)
    • Provides that no information may be excluded from automatic declassification based solely on the physical type of the document/record in which it is found.   Section 3.1(g)
    • Requires a review of previously approved file series exemptions.  Section 3.3(c)(4)

    William H. Leary is Special Adviser to the National Security Advisor and Senior Director for Records and Access Management, National Security Staff