Open for Change
Today, U.S. departments and agencies are releasing their Open Government Plans -- another historic milestone in President Obama's campaign to change Washington.
For too many years, Washington has resisted the oversight of the American public, resulting in difficulties in finding information, taxpayer dollars disappearing without a trace, and lobbyists wielding undue influence. For Americans, business as usual in Washington has reinforced the belief that the government benefits the special interests and the well-connected at the expense of the American people.
No more. Since coming to office, the President has launched a series of initiatives to let the sunshine in, including posting White House visitor records, disclosing lobbyist contacts regarding stimulus funds, and launching data.gov and recovery.gov. That's why independent groups recently gave the Administration an A grade for transparency.
Today we add to that body of accomplishments as the departments and agencies issue Open Government Plans pursuant to the Open Government Directive. The Plans will make operations and data more transparent, and expand opportunities for citizen participation, collaboration, and oversight. These steps will strengthen our democracy and promote accountability, efficiency and effectiveness across the government. Here are a few highlights:
- Department of Health and Human Services' Community Health Data Initiative: This initiative will provide to the public, free of charge and of any intellectual property constraint, a large-scale Community Health Data Set harvested from across HHS—this data set includes a wealth of easily accessible, downloadable data on community health care costs, quality, access, and public health, including a major contribution of Medicare-related data from CMS. The initiative is simultaneously working with a growing array of technology companies, researchers, public health advocates, consumer advocates, employers, media, providers, etc. to identify and deploy uses of the data that would be most effective at raising awareness of community health performance and helping to facilitate and inform improvement efforts. Such applications and programs could include interactive health maps, competitions, and social networking games that educate people about community health and enhanced web search results for health searches. By leveraging the power of transparency, participation, and collaboration, the Community Health Data Initiative seeks to help significantly improve the health of our communities. (Department of Health and Human Service's Open Government page)
- Department of Energy's Open Energy Information Initiative: As part of its efforts to promote clean energy technologies, DOE has launched Open Energy Information, a new open-source web platform that will make DOE resources and open energy data widely available to the public. The data and tools housed on the free, editable and evolving wiki-platform will be used by government officials, the private sector, project developers, the international community, and others to help deploy clean energy technologies across the country and around the world. The site currently houses more than 60 clean energy resources and data sets, including maps of worldwide solar and wind potential, information on climate zones, and best practices. Members of the American public and the energy community globally will have the opportunity to upload additional data to the site and download the information in easy-to-use formats. OpenEI.org will also play an important role providing technical resources, including U.S. lab tools, which can be used by developing countries as they move toward clean energy deployment. Over time, the plan is to expand this portal to include on-line training and technical expert networks. (Department of Energy Open Government page)
- Department of Veterans Affairs Innovation Initiative: The VA Innovation Initiative (VAi2) will invite VA employees, private sector entrepreneurs, and academic leaders to contribute the best ideas for innovations to increase Veteran access to VA services, reduce or control costs of delivering those services, enhance the performance of VA operations, and improve the quality of service Veterans and their families receive. The VA Innovation Initiative will identify, prioritize, fund, test, and deploy the most promising solutions to the VA's most important challenges. (Department of Veterans Affairs Open Government page)
- Department of Housing and Urban Development's Homelessness Prevention Resources Initiative: Many agencies and organizations struggle with the task of capturing information about the homeless. Even more difficult is the task of predicting when and where homelessness will strike. HUD believes that much can be done to avert homelessness before it happens by actively combining information from multiple Agencies and using it to identify communities that may be at a tipping point towards increased levels of homelessness. Aligning with HUD's strategic initiatives, the Department will take a proactive leadership role in the Administration's efforts to end homelessness. HUD will develop a set of tools and processes that can help predict communities that are at risk so that resources can be allocated to help avoid homelessness from occurring. The Department's effort is unique because it will seek to predict the future course of homelessness in a community, and allow HUD to proactively allocate the resources necessary to combat it. (Department of Housing and Urban Development's Open Government page)
These are just a few examples -- visit our Open Government Dashboard for links to others. Publishing these plans demonstrates once again this Administration's commitment to be the most open and transparent in history. Of course, much work remains to be done and we invite you to be a part of that by visiting the agency websites at name of agency/open and providing your comments on version 1.0 of the plans. That will help us and the agencies make the plans even better.
Norm Eisen is Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform