Sunshine Week 2011 Blog Posts

  • Sunshine Week at the Department of Transportation

    Ed. Note: This post is part of a Sunshine Week series that highlights open government efforts from across the administration.

    At the Department of Transportation, open government is not just a slogan we throw around. Instead, it’s something we practice every day. That’s because the public – the people we serve – has a right to know what we are doing and how we are doing it.

    That is why I am so pleased to be able to report that at DOT, our team has accomplished so much in a very short time.  Our professionals are encouraged to promote transparency, increase citizen engagement, and collaborate with others across the government and outside the government to benefit all Americans.

    I invite you to visit  Read my blog, Fast Lane, visit my Facebook page and check out my twitter feed.  Let us know what else you need from DOT so you can get the transportation information you need.

    Here are just a few of the important steps we have taken over the last two years:

  • Three Trends on Fostering Innovation through Open Government

    Last Sunday, economist Dick Thaler wrote an article in the New York Times highlighting the many ways innovators are using government data to create platforms, applications, and other useful tools that touch the lives of our friends and neighbors. As we celebrate Sunshine Week, we thought we’d reflect on the intersection of our open government initiative and the President’s Strategy for American Innovation.

    We are focused on three trends that are fostering government innovation: 

    1. The Rise of a New Information Intermediary Industry: The release of government data has contributed to a new category of products and services designed to make information more relevant and useful to a variety of audiences. Reflecting the market potential, venture capitalists have backed firms like Socrata and Infochimps that repurpose open data sets for developers and others to quickly and easily put them to good use. Think of this industry as competing to provide the “last-mile” of information service to help consumers, companies, and stakeholders keenly interested in effective, efficient government.
    2. The Incorporation of Data in New Products and Services: An emerging trend aligned with the President’s strategy to “out-innovate” our economic competitors is the incorporation of open data into new products and services. We’ve previously written about Brightscope, which has now grown into a multi-million-dollar information business supporting over 30 employees. This past weekend, at the Startup America session at SXSW, noted early-stage investor Vinod Khosla shared the story of his participation in a $42 million investment in Weatherbill, an insurance company helping farmers to adapt to climate change, powered by real-time information freely available through the National Weather Service.
    3. The Extension of Government Platforms: Agencies are increasingly inviting third party developers to extend the value of government websites or to solve specific problems through platforms like, which as of March 2011 showcased 75 prizes, including the SMART Apps for Health. The Commerce Department, in collaboration with the FCC, recently launched The National Broadband Map to shine light on coverage gaps, including developer tools to extend the value of the platform. An early adopter - the Department of Education - published a “mashup” incorporating school data so communities are empowered to ensure that their children are equipped for the jobs of the future.

    These trends reflect great promise for open government as a catalyst for productivity growth. But they also point to a new phenomenon - the rise of citizen developers. At a recent “Transportation Camp” in New York City, concerned citizens met with government transportation leaders to discuss transportation issues at the Federal and local level.  We learned an alarming statistic: almost 3 out of 4 parents improperly install their child safety seat.   Others at the Camp were concerned too, so much so that one member of the audience created a mobile app that now allows parents to find the nearest inspection stationwhere professionals can install their child seatsecurely, improving access to an existing government website.

    President Obama is committed to ensuring that the 21st century does not leave the Federal government behind.  We’re  using technology to save money, create a more participatory government, and to make a real different in the lives of all Americans, from informing your family about recalls to finding new and fun ways to get the whole family to eat healthy and stay active.  Stay tuned for more.

    Aneesh Chopra is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer

    Chris Vein is the Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer for Government Innovation

  • Sunshine Week at the Department of Veterans Affairs

    Ed. Note: This post is part of our Sunshine Week series on the blog. Sunshine Week is a national initiative to celebrate and focus on government transparency and open government.

    The mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs – enshrined in our building – is “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.”  For our men and women in uniform who have fought for our country – serving them is a privilege and responsibility we take very seriously.  At the VA, we are committed to continuing to meet and surpass our highest standards of care for each and every veteran, each and every day. Open government helps us do this: the publication of key health-related data to increase transparency, the creation of technological tools helping veterans to participate, and the harnessing of new ideas for innovation and collaboration, all fuel our mission.

    During Sunshine Week we are reflecting on our accomplishments – not so we can rest, but so we can take inspiration to build on our successes. We’re on a deliberate and thoughtful path to become an even more people-centric, results-driven, and forward-looking organization. I invite you to visit to see for yourself.  Here is a sample of important steps we have taken:

  • Sunshine, Savings, and Service

    Ed. Note: This post is part of our Sunshine Week series on the blog. Sunshine Week is a national initiative to celebrate and focus on government transparency and open government.

    For too long, the Federal Government has failed to effectively harness the power and potential of information technology (IT)  -- despite spending approximately $80 billion dollars on IT each year, and more than $600 billion over the past decade.  As a result, it has lagged far behind the private sector in the reaping the gains in productivity and enhancements in service from IT.  To get a better return on this investment for the American people, we have fundamentally altered the way we manage the federal government's IT projects -- using transparency to shed light on government operations and to hold government managers accountable for results.

    Download Video: mp4 (47MB)

    On my first day on the job, at the beginning of the Obama Administration, I was handed a portfolio that included $27 Billion in IT projects that were years behind schedule, and over budget. I quickly found that the sheer size of the portfolio often led to a sense of faceless accountability and quickly set out to fix that. That’s why just months after President Obama took office, we launched the IT Dashboard (June, 2009) – which provides a clear window into Federal IT projects, bolstering transparency and accountability.  The IT Dashboard shines a light on these projects, including if they are on schedule and within budget -- and posting the photo and name of the official responsible -- and agencies continue to increase transparency and improve data quality.

  • Sunshine Week at the Department of Health and Human Services

    Ed. Note: This post is part of our Sunshine Week series on the blog. Sunshine Week is a national initiative to celebrate and focus on government transparency and open government.

    Few things are as deeply personal as your health or the health of your loved ones, and few decisions deserve as much attention as those we make in our daily lives to protect our health.  At HHS, our efforts to make government more open have provided many Americans with health information they can use to be well and realize their potential.  We aim to help make our government better, faster, and smarter.

    While we have important work yet to be done, Sunshine Week provides an occasion to take stock of the many important projects into which many of our nearly 80,000 employees – working with many of you – have poured their energy and talents over the past year.  I invite you to visit our Open Government website, where we warmly welcome your feedback, ideas, and contributions.

  • Investing in Open Government to Create A More Efficient and Effective Government

    Ed. Note: This post is part of our Sunshine Week series, a national initiative to celebrate and focus on government transparency and open government.

    Federal agencies collect enormous amounts of data about such diverse matters as automobile safety, air travel, air quality, workplace safety, drug safety, nutrition, crime, obesity, the employment market, and health care.  The Obama Administration has made it a priority to share this and other government information – what the President has called a “national asset” – to improve citizen education and decision-making, and to spur innovation and job creation.  

    Federal agencies are working hard to foster open government, and we encourage you to examine what they have done. For example:

    • The Department of Homeland Security created “Virtual USA,” enabling public safety officials across all levels of government to share information in real time, and improve response to national disasters. 
    • The Department of Energy, as part of its efforts to promote clean energy, launched, containing dozens of clean energy resources and data sets, including maps of worldwide solar and wind potential, information on climate zones, and energy best practices.  The Department intends to expand these resources to include on-line training and technical expert networks.
    • The Environmental Protection Agency, together with other federal, state, local, and tribal agencies, developed, offering the public daily Air Quality Index forecasts and real-time Air Quality Index conditions for over 300 cities across the country as well as links to detailed state and local air quality cites.
    • And six federal agencies—the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the EPA—created, to alert the public to unsafe, hazardous, or defective products and up-to-date consumer safety information.

    Throughout the week, will continue highlighting the Administration’s commitment to open government, including the accomplishments of three other departments  – Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, and Transportation.  We hope you will take a moment to read these blog posts.  What unites these federal agencies is that they all consider open government to be a long-term investment in building a stronger democracy and creating a more efficient and effective government. 

    Chris Lu is Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary