Open Government Initiative Blog

  • A Milestone for Expediting Air Traffic Modernization

    Yesterday, the President’s Chief Performance Officer Jeff Zients unveiled the Federal Infrastructure Projects Dashboard, an open government initiative that tracks the progress of high priority infrastructure projects as they are expedited through their regulatory review and permitting processes.

    In October I highlighted the importance one of these projects, a Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, pilot project in Houston.  NextGen is a comprehensive modernization of our Nation’s air traffic infrastructure, with the potential to save time and money for air travelers while delivering environmental benefits for communities on the ground.

  • By the Numbers: 475 Million

    475 million

    The National Archives and Record Administration has collected, on average, 475 million pages of records a year for each of the last 10 years. Thanks to new technology, both the volume and diversity of material being archived has increased, but Federal agencies aren't keeping up with this heavier load. 

    Making these records available and accessible to the public is an important step toward giving people clear and accurate information about the decisions and actions of the Federal Government. That, however, is largely dependent on taking advantage of these technology advances and making information available electronically, instead of relying on paper-based archives.

    Today, President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum that will do exactly that. His memorandum instructs Federal agencies move into a digital-based record keeping system, and which will save money, promote accountability, and increase government transparency.

  • Recommitting Ourselves to Making Government More Effective

    Last week, President Obama stood with other heads of state to endorse the principles of the Open Government Partnership and launch the U.S. Open Government National Action Plan

    We are proud of the work done so far to make our government more efficient and effective, and to illustrate the breadth of work done so far, many agencies posted blogs on their achievements of the last two and a half years.  In particular, the Department of Transportation, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Department of the Treasury, Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture, and General Services Administration are recommitting themselves to the principles of open government. 

    More still, agencies are doubling down and announcing new and innovative initiatives in addition to the commitments that are already in their Open Government Plans.  For example, the Department of Justice plans to convene an Interagency Technology Working Group to focus on expanding the use of technology in the core elements of FOIA administration.   And, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will establish an Innovation Lab that will benefit HUD through the incubation of novel and unique ideas that improve interactions with customers, increase mission efficiency and efficacy, and reduce duplication of effort. 

    Agencies continue to play a lead role in making our government more open.  One initiative in our Plan commits to working to modernize the management of government records.  To that end, the Archivist of the United States David Ferriero will convene a meeting of international archivists to discuss the role they play in a more open government.  And, NASA will launch the International Space Apps Challenge to help improve public services and promote innovation through collaboration.

    The Plan that we unveiled last week, and the initiatives that agencies are continuing to implement, are part of a larger effort to fulfill the President’s commitment to make our government more “open and competent.”  In some ways, the hard work is just beginning, but we look forward to the work ahead.

    Chris Vein is the US Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Government Innovation

    Remington Gregg is Advisor for Open Government

  • Open Government Action Plan for Innovators

    On Tuesday, President Obama joined 40 Heads of State on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to unveil the U.S. National Action Plan on Open Government, an ambitious effort to promote accountability, empower people with information they “can readily find and use”, and ensure public officials tap into the expertise and wisdom of the American people when setting policy.

    Consistent with the goals of harnessing the creativity of the American people, a national plan for the United States has been designed in consultation with a wide range of civil society groups, academics, business leaders, and the general public.  This plan will support our Nation’s job creators, especially in industries investing in productivity-enhancing digital infrastructure.  In the healthcare sector alone, a recently published McKinsey study estimated a possible $1-300 billion annual productivity gain. Here are three highlights on how the national plan can catalyze innovation and entrepreneurship:

    • “Doubling Down” on Data.gov Communities:  Over the past two years, the Administration has published an unprecedented amount of information in “computer-friendly” formats (over 390,000 data sets) freely available for developers without intellectual property constraint. To spur use, we’ve posted over 100 challenges, prizes or contests ranging from the First Lady’s “Apps for Healthy Kids” to the Vice President’s “Apps Against Abuse” – inviting students, hobbyists and professionals alike to demonstrate our capacity to solve the seemingly unsolvable through innovation.
      • In 2011, we've worked to catalyze a growing movement of entrepreneurs and innovators harnessing open data to build sustainable new products or services through the launch of Data.gov “communities” in areas like health and energy.  The plan calls on us to double the number of communities this year by expanding into education, R&D, and public safety. More importantly, we will focus like a hawk on connecting innovators to relevant data and unapologetically celebrate those products and services making a difference in the lives of everyday Americans.
         
    • “Smart Disclosure”:  An important ingredient in driving productivity growth, especially in national priority areas like health, energy, and education, is the ability to measure outcomes. Since June 2010, the Administration has been promoting the use of disclosure as a low-cost, high-impact regulatory tool. For example, healthcare.gov provides access to health insurance market information that had previously been difficult to find – including denial rates and other relevant measures for an individual when searching for insurance options that best meet personal needs.
      • To build on this work, the plan calls out recently issued guidance to Federal agencies on “smart disclosure”. While we are broadly supporting agencies and departments over the next year to ensure the timely release of complex information in standardized, machine-readable formats, we are particularly focused on catalyzing new products and services in areas that spur productivity growth – value-based payments in healthcare, higher education and energy use.
         
    • “Government as a Platform”:  The infrastructure of the open data movement itself is evolving. While we are proud of the public reception to open government applications like data.gov, challenge.gov, the redesigned federalregister.gov and so forth, we are inspired by the limitless potential for governments within the U.S. and around the world to develop new and exciting tools that reflect openness as a core value in governance.
      • To seed this movement, the plan calls on the Administration, in partnership with the Government of India, to release “Data.gov-in-a-Box” as an open source version of the United States’ Data.gov portal and India’s “India.gov.in” document portal. In the coming months, we will contribute the core set of applications that facilitate access to open government data, the mechanisms to extend such applications by any third party developer, and to inspire the public and private sector to engage in a “Race to the Top” to facilitate the use of open data in new products and services.

    The U.S. National Action Plan includes plenty of other important initiatives to support the relationship between job creators and the government, including a commitment to publish guidelines on how to access scientific data produced through unclassified federal research funding, the ability to tap into their expertise on relevant public policy deliberations through an “ExpertNet” platform, and a global “Apps” competition drawing a global cadre of scientists and concerned citizens to harness open data to solve global challenges including weather impacts and the depletion of ocean resources.

    We remain inspired by the growing number of open innovators and are confident this plan will accelerate this trend and increase the probability we invent our way out of some of the most pressing challenges that confront us.

    Aneesh Chopra is US Chief Technology Officer

  • President Obama on Open Government: "The Essence of Democracy"

    Download Video: mp4 (582MB) | mp3 (56MB)

    This week, President Obama is in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly to meet with partners and address a range of issues with the international community, including open government.

    At the U.N. General Assembly last year, President Obama called on nations to make, "specific commitments to promote transparency, to fight corruption, to energize civic engagement, and to leverage new technologies so we can strengthen the foundations of freedom in our own countries." Today, the President outlined the progress that has already been made in response to his call to action:

    And now we see governments around the world meeting this challenge, including many represented here today.  Countries from Mexico to Turkey to Liberia have passed laws guaranteeing citizens the right to information.  From Chile to Kenya to the Philippines, civil society groups are giving citizens new tools to report corruption.  From Tanzania to Indonesia -- and as I saw firsthand during my visit to India -- rural villages are organizing and making their voices heard, and getting the public services that they need.  Governments from Brazil to South Africa are putting more information online, helping people hold public officials accountable for how they spend taxpayer dollars. 

    Here in the United States, we’ve worked to make government more open and responsive than ever before.  We’ve been promoting greater disclosure of government information, empowering citizens with new ways to participate in their democracy.  We are releasing more data in usable forms on health and safety and the environment, because information is power, and helping people make informed decisions and entrepreneurs turn data into new products, they create new jobs.  We’re also soliciting the best ideas from our people in how to make government work better.  And around the world, we’re standing up for freedom to access information, including a free and open Internet.

  • The United States Releases its Open Government National Action Plan

    “In all parts of the world, we see the promise of innovation to make government more open and accountable. And now, we must build on that progress. And when we gather back here next year, we should bring specific commitments to promote transparency; to fight corruption; to energize civic engagement; to leverage new technologies so that we strengthen the foundations of freedom in our own countries, while living up to the ideals that can light the world.”

    --President Barack Obama, September 23, 2010

    On September 23, 2010, President Obama challenged the members of the United Nations General Assembly to work together to make all governments more open and accountable to their people.  To meet that challenge, in July 2011, the United States and Brazil announced the creation of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) – a global initiative that supports efforts to promote more transparent, effective, and accountable institutions globally.  The OGP effort builds directly on steps President Obama has taken since the first full day of his Administration to strengthen democracy and promote a more efficient and effective government through greater openness.

    And today, as part the OGP effort, the U.S. and other members of the OGP Steering Committee are coming together in New York to welcome new members to the partnership and to unveil Open Government National Action Plans. As we developed a U.S. National Action Plan (“National Plan”), the Federal Government engaged in extensive consultations with external stakeholders, including a broad range of civil society groups and members of the private sector. We solicited input from the Administration’s own Open Government Working Group, comprised of senior-level representatives from executive branch departments and agencies. White House policymakers also engaged the public via a series of blog posts, requesting ideas about how to focus Open Government efforts on increasing public integrity, more effectively managing public resources, and improving public services.  

     Among the highlights of the Plan:

    • “We the People.”  The White House announced the launch of the “We the People” petition platform to give Americans a direct line to voice their concerns to the Administration via online petitions.  In addition, the Administration plans to publish the source code of the new “We the People” petition platform so that it is available to any government around the world that seeks to solicit and respond to the concerns of the public.
    • Whistleblower Protection.  Recently, Congress nearly enacted whistleblower legislation that would eliminate loopholes in existing protections, provide protections for employees in the intelligence community, and create pilot programs to explore potential structural reforms in the remedial process.  The Administration will continue to work with Congress to enact this legislation.  But if Congress remains deadlocked, the Administration will explore options for utilizing executive branch authority to strengthen and expand whistleblower protections.
    • Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.  The U.S. is committing to implementing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  EITI requires governments to publicly disclose their revenues from oil, gas, and mining assets, and for companies to make parallel disclosures regarding payments.  By signing onto the global standard that EITI sets, the U.S. Government can help ensure that American taxpayers are receiving every dollar due for the extraction of these valuable public resources.

    Other initiatives include: expanding the use of technology to achieve greater efficiencies in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) administration; overhaul the public participation interface on regulations.gov to help the public find, follow, and participate in Federal rulemakings; and launching ExpertNet, a platform to communicate with citizens who have expertise on a pertinent topic. There are a lot of exciting initiatives in our Plan – too many to recount in this post – but you can view the full plan here . 

    At the President’s State of the Union Address in January 2011, he said that the American people deserve a government that is “open and competent.”  Building on the efforts inaugurated by the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, and the President’s continued leadership, we look forward to the work ahead.

    Watch the video "U.S. Release Open Government Action Plan" here.