Open Government Initiative Blog

  • “Social Security: Real Stories” Wins SSA Video Contest

    In late July, we launched our first-ever video contest, “How Social Security Has Made a Difference in My Life.”  In part, we wanted to harness the energy and sentiment surrounding Social Security’s 75th anniversary by capturing personal stories of the program’s impact on people’s lives. But more importantly, we hoped that engaging the American public in this way would help others discover the myriad ways in which Social Security makes a difference and can help people at critical, life-changing junctures.  While Social Security is much more than a retirement program, many citizens do not realize it until they become disabled, lose a loved one, or encounter severe financial hardship.

    So, ideally, through the lens of our video contest, people would illustrate the many facets of Social Security, and then share with the world through our YouTube channel.  The winner would gain additional visibility on Social Security’s website, Facebook and Twitter feeds.  This would be only the start of our foray into the realm of challenges, contests and prizes, as we move to get citizens more actively involved in both the dialogue and the effort of solving some of the problems we face.

    We anticipated selecting the winner – or even several – from a sizeable collection of contest entries.  Well, we didn’t get as much participation as we’d hoped.  Fewer than ten solid entries came in.  We’re pleased with the winning selection, though:   Congratulations to winners Erica Solway, Lindsay Trapnell, Laura Hunt, Alex Butterwick, and Kate Schriver, on an excellent job producing "Social Security: Real Stories."

    We learned a lot in the process, from lessons about structure and content to new ideas and practices in outreach via social media.  We’ve also thought a lot recently about the dialogue between Social Security and the American people; after all, the point of this and subsequent challenges is to inspire and engage Americans in a conversation with their Government. Through this dialogue, we hope to make Social Security more responsive to the American People, and more effective in delivering services to them.

    We’re grappling with these and other questions as we design our next challenge.  Thank you to all who participated, enjoy the winning video, and stay tuned at!  By the way, on a separate path, we invited the public to submit narrative stories on our website, describing how Social Security made a difference in their lives.  More than 600 people responded with vivid accounts of how disability and survivors benefits made a big difference when tragedy struck.  You can read these inspiring stories here.

    Frank Baitman is Chief Information Officer at the Social Security Administration

  • President Obama Emphasizes Support for Open Government at the U.N.

    At his speech to the United Nations General Assembly this morning, President Obama emphasized the United States’ support for the principles of open government  worldwide:

    In all parts of the world, we see the promise of innovation to make government more open and accountable. 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; and to leverage new technologies so that we strengthen the foundation of freedom in our own countries, while living up to ideals that can light the world.

    You can check out the full text of the President’s remarks here and a fact sheet on U.S. Support for Open Government here.

  • City in a Box: Municipal Makeover Comes to Texas

    Today I am in Manor, Texas (pop. 6,500), to celebrate the burgeoning open government movement underway in America’s towns and cities. Manor is embracing the Obama Administration's vision of creating effective and efficient government that fosters transparency and innovation. By using new technology to enable open and collaborative ways of working, government—whether federal, state, or local—can deliver better citizen services with fewer resources.

  • Prize Platform Invites Citizens to Solve Nation’s Challenges

    President Obama has recognized that “the challenges we face today—from saving our planet to ending poverty—are simply too big for government to solve alone. We need all hands on deck.”  Today, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra launched, a new online platform where entrepreneurs, innovators, and citizen solvers can compete for prestige and prizes by providing novel solutions to tough problems, large and small. is the latest milestone in the Administration’s commitment to create a more open and collaborative government that “actively engages Americans in the work of their Government,” as called for in the President’s Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. To learn more, visit and check out the White House blog post from Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy in the  White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

  • The Race to the Top for Openness and Innovation: Announcing Agency Open Government Plan Leading Practices

    Four months ago, all cabinet departments demonstrated their commitment to building a government that is more transparent, participatory, and collaborative through the publication of detailed open government plans. (See, for example HHS or DOT’s posts about their plans) To hold the departments accountable, we published an online dashboard that assessed agency Open Government plans against the requirements of the Open Government Directive. We found that agencies were off to a good start. At the same time, we concluded that much more work was necessary to ensure effective implementation of these ambitious plans to make operations and data more transparent and expand opportunities for citizen participation, collaboration, and oversight.

    With your feedback, members of the Open Government community--within and outside the government--have been working together to improve the Open Government plans. Today, we update our Open Government Dashboard to reflect this progress.

    A total of 18 agencies are “all green,” which means that they have crafted plans that meet every requirement under the Directive. Moreover, agencies that are still yellow have made significant progress in revising and improving their plans.

    Today, we also announce the recipients of The Leading Practices Awards for achievement above and beyond the requirements of the Directive. These Awards recognize those agencies, as selected by their peers, that have outlined the best and most innovative strategies for promoting open government over the next two years. There are four categories of awards corresponding to each of the major goals of the Open Government agenda:

    • Leadership, Governance, and Culture Change
    • Transparency
    • Participation and Collaboration
    • Flagship Initiative

    Awards were determined on the basis of evaluation of the plans against the definition of “Leading Practice” by the agencies themselves. Leading Practices are meant to inspire a “race to the top” among government agencies for greater openness and innovation. These awards represent the very best of the best in Open Government Plans -- exemplary of the high levels of creativity and innovation that can be found in the open government activities of our Federal agencies today. The awardees in the four categories are as follows:

    Leadership, Governance, and Culture Change


    Participation and Collaboration

    Flagship Initiative

    Open Government is an evolving and continuing responsibility for this Administration. Much has been accomplished in the recent past. Click here to view some of the highlights.

    Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer
    Cass R. Sunstein is Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs

  • Apps4 Africa: State Department Driving Collaboration through Competition

    In July 2009, President Obama addressed Ghana’s parliament, saying, “Africa’s future is up to Africans.”  That future, in part, will depend on developing infrastructure, building the capacity of civil society and educational institutions, stamping out corruption, and ensuring access to capital for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). These are all complex challenges that will require complex solutions. However, it is increasingly clear that technology, entrepreneurship and innovation will be part of the solution. On a continent where there is 25 percent electricity penetration but 37 percent mobile penetration, connection technologies are lowering the cost and increasing the effectiveness of everything from election monitoring to securing a loan to organizing civic action.   

    More and more, Africans are behind some of the most effective digital tools for driving social change and economic inclusion. Ushahidi, a Kenyan crisis response platform, was used by the U.S. government and the United Nations for emergency response purposes in Haiti; and M-Pesa, Kenya’s mobile money platform, is among the most successful in the world. There are now physical spaces where new ideas live, in the form of tech incubators and co-working spaces, including the Hive Colab in Uganda, the iHub in Kenya, and Limbe Labs in Cameroon with similar spaces set to open in the near future.