Open Government Initiative Blog

  • Cutting Waste by Reforming IT

    Cross-posted from the OMB blog.

    As I’ve written before, one source of ineffective and inefficient government is the technology gap between the public and private sectors.

    While a productivity boom has transformed private sector performance over the past two decades, the federal government has almost entirely missed this transformation and now lags far behind on efficiency and service quality.  We are wasting billions of dollars a year, and more importantly are missing out on the huge productively improvements other sectors have benefited from.

    Quite simply, we can’t significantly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal government without fixing IT.

    That’s why today, in our ongoing effort to make sure that taxpayers’ dollars are spent on projects that work, we are taking three specific actions to advance IT reform.

  • More than 450,000 White House Visitor Records Online

    In September 2009, the President announced that – for the first time in history – the White House would routinely release visitor records. Today, the White House releases visitor records that were created in March 2010. Today’s release also includes several visitor records created prior to September 16, 2009 that were requested by members of the public during May 2010 pursuant to the White House voluntary disclosure policy. This release brings the grand total of records that this White House has released to well over 450,000 records. You can view them all in our Disclosures section.

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

  • Ending Lobbyist Appointments to Agency Boards and Commissions

    We are proud to announce today the next step in the President’s efforts to reduce the influence of special interests on the federal government. Today, the President signed a memorandum directing agencies in the Executive Branch not to appoint or re-appoint currently-registered federal lobbyists to advisory boards or commissions. This directive formalizes an aspiration we first announced last September and that agencies have implemented successfully on a trial basis ever since.

    For too long, lobbyists have wielded disproportionate influence in Washington.  It’s one thing for lobbyists to represent their clients’ interests in petitions to the government, but it’s quite another, and not appropriate, for lobbyists to hold privileged positions could enable them to advocate for their clients from within the government.   It was for this reason that the President took steps on his first day in office to close the revolving door through which lobbyists rotated between private industry and full-time executive branch positions.  Today’s step goes further by barring lobbyist appointments to part-time agency advisory positions.

    These part-time agency advisory boards and commissions – of which there are thousands throughout the executive branch – help the government shape policy on everything from international trade to scientific innovation.  And while some specialists who’ve held roles on these boards for years have made positive contributions, phasing out those who simultaneously serve as lobbyists will have the added benefit of opening these boards up to fresh faces and engaging more Americans in our governing process.      

    In order to avoid disrupting the ongoing work of these boards, the memorandum will not require removal of currently-serving lobbyists in the middle of their terms.  But, it will prohibit their reappointment when their term expires if they continue to serve as registered federal lobbyists.  And it prohibits the appointment of any new lobbyists from this date forward.

    The memorandum now directs the Office of Management and Budget to issue implementing guidance within 90 days.  In order to engage Americans fully in reforming our government and fighting the special interests, draft guidance will be made available for public comment.

    We will continue to fight the special interests until the playing field in Washington is leveled for the American people. 

  • Law.Gov: Access to the Raw Materials of Our Democracy

    Open government seeks to make the workings and information of government more accessible to all. One important aspect of open government is enabling access to one of the most basic forms of government information – the law.  As John Podesta, President of Center for American Progress said during the opening to today’s “Law.Gov” conference:

    What it’s about is making all primary materials in the United States more readily available, from water districts, counties, cities, and states all the way up to the three branches of the federal government. It isn’t about building the ultimate web site and putting WestLaw out of business.  What Law.gov aims to achieve is changing how governmental bodies that make the law present their work product – pushing government to meet the basic requirement that the public has easy access to their work product.

    Access to the law is vital to ensuring the rule of law. It also has very practical consequences of relevance to our daily lives. As Carl Malamud, organizer of the Law.gov conference pointed out:

    If you want to make juice in California, you need much more than a good supply of mangos.… Title 17 of the California Code of Regulations deals with Sanitation in Food Plants. The Office of Administrative Law of the State of California asserts copyright over the California Code of Regulations and contracts with Barclays to publish the document. You can view the provisions on their web site, but I can’t make a copy that looks differently, say one that is aimed specifically at juice guys…. And, of course, you need to be fully familiar with the HACCP regulations, series of detailed standards on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points from the Food and Drug Administration. The HACCP regulations, in turn, incorporate by reference a raft of technical standards such as ANSI/NSF Standard Number 7 for Commercial Refrigerators and Storage Freezers, which is $100 per copy, if you want to do due diligence on your freezer and read the tech spec. These documents are just a start for the serious juice professional.

    It is not self-evident that the law is available. As Erika Wayne, Deputy Law Librarian at Stanford Law School went on to describe, eight states assert copyright, which restricts use of the online versions of their codes. At least one state provides access to case law for a fee.  PACER, the federal courts court records online system, imposes eight cent per page cost that several speakers commented on as limiting access to court records. Rather than going to fund PACER, much of the money collected ($129 million) goes largely to fund other courtroom technology, said Stephen Schultze of Princeton University.  If the courts made court records available in bulk form, "they might be able to provide the services for free and, at the same time, enabling third-party innovators to develop new products."

    Even when material is free, it may not be accessible and, in addition, private information that shouldn’t be available may not be adequately protected. “Access to the law doesn’t simply mean access to the courtroom,” said Schultze. “We have to make sure that our practices in today’s new technological environment respect our principles with regard to openness as well as privacy.”

    A number of White House officials are participating in today’s event because the White House Open Government Initiative is following the law.gov movement closely. We are interested in feedback regarding what the Federal government might do to support access to legal information.

    You can follow the proceedings live online today and view the archive here

    Beth Noveck is United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Director of White House Open Government Initiative.

  • Harnessing the Power of Information to Improve Health

    On Wednesday, we launched a vital new HHS Open Government effort: The Community Health Data Initiative (CHDI).  Joined by almost 700 people in person and online, the Initiative was publicly launched by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius along with Deputy Secretary Bill Corr, Institute of Medicine President Harvey Fineberg, and White House CTO Aneesh Chopra at a forum held at the National Academy of Sciences.  

    The Community Health Data Initiative is an incredibly exciting new public-private collaboration that is encouraging innovators to utilize data made publicly available by HHS to develop applications that will help raise awareness of community health performance, spark action to improve performance, and empower individuals and communities to make informed choices about their health.

    This initiative has its roots in a brainstorming session of public and private sector innovators held on March 11 by the Institute of Medicine and HHS.  The objective of the March session was to explore what could be done with HHS’s vast stores of community health data – e.g., smoking rates, obesity rates, access to healthy food, utilization of medical services, etc. If HHS made such data easily accessible by the public, would innovators be interested in developing creative new uses for it that could benefit the public? 

    The answer was a resounding yes, so we went to work. Innovators from the worlds of business, technology, academia, and community advocacy identified many areas where exciting new applications to improve health could be developed. HHS built an interim CHDI website and posted a consolidated group of HHS community health data sets in easily accessible, downloadable form. Innovators from across the country then took our data and – in less than 12 weeks! – put together an amazing array of new or improved applications that utilize our data in creative and powerful ways to help advance health.   

    At the forum on Wednesday, we showcased more than a dozen of these apps, plus others which have been recently developed. They collectively represented an absolutely stunning show of the power of American innovation, including: 

    • An interactive community health dashboard that allows civic leaders and citizens to see a “report card” of health performance in their county and learn about the latest best practices that other communities have implemented to improve their performance;
    • Integration of patient satisfaction ratings from Medicare’s Hospital Compare database into web search results for hospitals – bringing this information to your fingertips
    • Amazing new health mapping tools that help consumers, providers, and policymakers focus on the right questions and make better informed choices
    • A brilliant new combination of GPS device and app that allows asthmatics to have their inhalers automatically transmit the location and time of each use – producing an anonymized, real-time map of asthma incidence that can provide crucial guidance regarding how to target interventions to reduce the burden of asthma
    • A (highly addictive) new online card game that engages you in a discovery of your community’s health and well-being status and how it compares to other communities in a head-to-head clash
    • And more!

    The event, viewable here (video), highlighted the power of bringing together innovators from federal and local government, the public health community, information technology firms, major businesses, nonprofits, academia, and the health care system to do incredible things that no one organization or sector could possibly have done by itself. It was a truly inspiring experience – with much more to come! 

    Moving forward, the Community Health Data Initiative will continue to expand the supply of data being made available to innovators – including major new data from HHS and from private sector sources. And we are looking forward to the next wave of super-cool apps that will be built leveraging CHDI data – many of which will be created as part of the 2010 Health 2.0 Developer Challenge, announced at the forum on Wednesday, and showcased at the Health 2.0 conference in October in San Francisco. To learn more about the Developer Challenge, visit www.health2challenge.org.   

    Todd Park is the Chief Technology Officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, Aman Bhandari is Policy Analyst for the Chief Technology Officer

  • Data.gov: Pretty Advanced for a One-Year-Old

    One year ago, data.gov was born with 47 datasets of government information that was previously unavailable to the public. The thinking behind this was that this data belonged to the American people, and you should not only know this information, but also have the ability to use it. By tapping the collective knowledge of the American people, we could leverage this government asset to deliver more for millions of people.

    Today, there are more than 250,000 datasets, hundreds of applications created by third parties, and a global movement to democratize data. To date, the site has received 97.6 million hits, and following the Obama Administration’s lead, governments and institutions of all sizes are unlocking the value of data for their constituents.  San Francisco, New York City, the State of California, the State of Utah, the State of Michigan, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have launched data.gov-type sites, as have countries such as Canada, Australia, and the UK as well as the World Bank.

    From these datasets, citizens have developed hundreds of applications that help parents keep their children safe, let travelers find the fastest route to their destinations, and inform home buyers about the safety of their new neighborhood.  Never before have people been so empowered with the information they need to make decisions every day.

    As I reflect on the 1st anniversary of data.gov, the most important accomplishment is the birth of a community of innovators that is helping change the way Washington works. 

    In less than eight months, a team of students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute developed over 40 applications using data.gov.  These applications range from easily searching the roster of visitors to the White House and tracking foreign aid across the world to shining light on the ratio of debt to assets for bankrupt companies.

    At the Sunlight Foundation, a community of developers continues to build on the Apps for America contest that brought us innovative apps that allow us to check wait times at airports, demystify the rule making process and empower people with the tools to mash up different datasets to unearth new insights. 

    At the World Bank, recognizing the power of prizes to mobilize new and diverse talent, they are encouraging the development of applications that make innovative use of more than 2,000 data sets that document human development worldwide, including health, business, finance, environment, and social welfare statistics.

    As we look to the next year, we recognize that the Web itself is evolving into a data platform and how important it is to link data from one agency to another or one country to another.  True value lies at the intersection of multiple datasets and what we are witnessing is a continued movement across the world to democratize data, but more importantly the explosion of applications created by the emergence of a community of innovators. 

    So all you innovators out there – what data sets can we try to get out there to help you go further? Tweet your ideas for data we should try to put out with hashtag #datagov, and we’ll see what we can do in year 2.

    Vivek Kundra is U.S. Chief Information Officer