Open Government Initiative Blog

  • Open Government, Open Data, Open Source

    Thomas Jefferson once wrote that when you share an idea with someone, they receive that idea without taking it away from you, just, "as he who lights his taper (candle) at mine, receives light without darkening me."

    Almost two hundred years later, that theory of openness is transforming how we think about government services.

    In May, President Obama launched an initiative to build a 21st century platform for government. It requires federal agencies to make key services available to mobile users and to release important government data in ways that will allow citizen developers and entrepreneurs to turn them into new products, services, and jobs. "I want us to ask ourselves every day," he said, "how are we using technology to make a real difference in people's lives."

    Here at the White House, we've been working to meet that expectation. Last week we expanded our mobile program and, now, we're launching a one-stop resource for those who want to take advantage of the tools provided by the White House technology program. It's called /Developers and includes a breakdown of all of the open data and open source software that we've released to date.

    If you're a software developer, we hope you'll take a look at the data and applications that we've released. Crack them open, see how they work. Spot a problem? We'd love for you to help fix it. Have an idea for a new way to use that piece of data? We'd love to know about that, too. Join us on GitHub or drop a line via our contact form or @WHWeb on Twitter.

  • The Code for Livability Rocks On

    Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of participating in the first Code for Livability event in Washington, DC.  An incredible group of policy makers, community leaders, and web developers came together with the purpose of developing strategies to sustain communities across the country.  From this first meeting, amazing ideas and conceptual designs for smart-phone applications were generated with the goal of bringing environmental sustainability to the forefront of peoples’ everyday lives.

    This weekend in Denver, Colorado, coders and designers will build on the success of the Code for Livability event, converging on the Uncubed coworking space to participate in the Colorado Code for Communities civic “hackathon”.  One of the first civic hacking events in the region, this event will bring together non-profits, local foundations, local and regional government agencies, Federal agencies, and private local tech startups and entrepreneurs.  “Hackathons” like this one bring together a number of people to build web and mobile applications and other products to help improve communities.  They happen in one whirlwind weekend and this one will result in two or three winning teams and applications. 

  • The Growing Open Government Movement

    The open government movement—which has emphasized transparency, collaboration, and participation at the Federal, state, and local levels—is finding increasing application on the international and diplomatic stage, as evidenced most recently by the launch of the Open Government Platform, which aims to promote government transparency and citizen engagement on a global scale.


    The Open Government Platform (OGPL) is a global initiative founded by the governments of India and the United States to make more government data, documents, tools, and processes publicly accessible through development and distribution of a freely available, open source on-line platform. By making these data available in useful machine-readable formats, the OGPL platform allows developers, analysts, media, and academia to gain new insights and develop novel applications that will enhance delivery of information and services to citizens and enable more informed decision-making.

    At last week’s U.S.-India Joint Commission Meeting on Science and Technology, OSTP Director and Presidential science and technology advisor John Holdren and Dr. Sam Pitroda, Adviser to Prime Minister of India on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovation, launched the second phase of the OGPL, which makes the platform freely available to other governments. As OGPL becomes more widely adopted, it will allow developers and civil society groups use government data to create innovative applications that help citizens and governments work together across the world. Because OGPL uses an open-source method of development, the entire OGPL community will be able to contribute to future technology enhancements, open government solutions, and community-based technical support.

    Also last week, in an agreement negotiated by the Indian government, it was announced that Rwanda has signed on as the first of two pilot countries. The United States is currently reviewing possible candidates and is expected to announce the second pilot country soon. Over the next six months, the joint U.S.- India team that created the OGPL will work with additional countries to unleash the power of open government using the worldwide open source community. 

    India and the United States have already committed to use OGPL for their respective portals and the US portal is already using portions of OGPL functionality. OGPL has released the open source code for the project, and both the United States and India expect to deploy OGPL this year based on feedback from the open source community.    

    The Open Government Platform exemplifies the belief that transparency, participation, and collaboration are universal concepts applicable to all levels of government in countries around the world.

    Chris Vein is Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Government Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • Helping our Nation’s Cities Through Open Government and Innovation

    Cities around the country are facing challenges, from increasing service demands, to tight budgets, to aging infrastructure. But city leaders are increasingly finding new and innovative ways to tackle these challenges, in part by harnessing the inherent power of the citizens that live there.

    Last week I was excited to join mayors in Orlando, Florida, for the 80th meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM).  I joined San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, and Jen Pahlka, executive director of Code for America, to launch the Open Government Innovation Partnership. The Partnership’s premise is simple: a founding group of city governments embrace a set of high-level open innovation principles, pledge city-specific commitments for implementing those principles, agree to share best practices, and invite a coalition of third-party organizations to assess progress.  As more cities join the Partnership, we’ll see a nationwide network of innovative of cities creating shareable tools that will help government innovate like never before.

  • The Power of Open Education Data

    On Tuesday, Vice President Biden, U.S. Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan, and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray hosted a roundtable with college presidents who pledged to provide clear, useful information to all incoming college students and their families, as part of their financial aid package, so that they can “know before they owe.” 

    The President has said keeping college affordable is a shared responsibility. That means the Federal government continuing to make Pell Grants available for low-income students and keeping loans available and affordable for all students who choose to borrow for college. It means states doing their fair share to fund colleges and universities instead of forcing schools to pass funding cuts onto students in the form of higher tuition. And it means postsecondary institutions innovating to find new ways to get students – including low-income students – across the finish line while keeping their costs down.

    But it also means students and families voting with their feet – making choices about where to apply and where to enroll based on information about quality and affordability, such as graduation and loan default rates. That can help consumers get good value for their money, and put some competitive pressure on schools to provide a top-notch education for less.

    Technology, data, and entrepreneurs can help with college affordability—as well as help address our national priorities in K-12 education.

  • Innovations in Open Government that are Changing DOT

    The Department of Transportation (DOT) has been committed to advancing the principles of a more open government since Day One of this Administration—by harnessing the skills and talents of the American people, releasing information, establishing greater collaboration among Federal agencies, and improving how efficiently the agency carries out its mission.

    The release of version 2.0 of DOT’s open government plan is a great opportunity to look at some of the great work that they’ve done since the last iteration.