In the coming weeks agencies will begin releasing "Version 2" of the Open Government Plans. The original Open Government Directive (OGD) plans, released in April 2010, were described by the Administration as "living documents" that agencies should regularly revisit and are required to update every two years. In the revamped plans, agencies are to develop initiatives and provide concrete timelines for building openness, participation, and collaboration into the way they operate.
In 2010, OpenTheGovernment.org organized a collaborative effort by volunteers from nonprofit groups, academia, and other organizations that serve the public interest to evaluate the strength of these plans. We provided each agency that produced a substantive plan with feedback and reevaluated any plan that was updated within a few months.
A similar effort to evaluate Version 2 of each plan is not in the cards, but we and our partners have had open talks with several agencies about the kinds of things we hope to see in their revamped plans.
What Do We Hope to See in the New Plans?
- An Update on Version 1. The Open Government Directive required agencies to include a variety of deadlines and timelines for various initiatives. Did the agency meet its commitments; if not, why not? A general accounting of how an agency did on implementing the first version of its plan is important in terms of holding the agency accountable and in helping the agency set new goals and priorities. A couple agencies have been regularly updating the public on their progress. For example, the Department of Justice, has posted several periodic updates on its /open page; the latest progress report from November 2011 provides a brief explanation of which projects are finished or ongoing. The US General Services Administration (GSA) also has an updated Dashboard offering a brief description of each project and an indication of what has been completed, in progress, or canceled.
- More Information, Not Just Data. We think it is important that the public has easy access to information about what the government is doing - and why. For well more than a year, OpenTheGovernment.org has been encouraging agencies to make items from a list known as the "Openness Floor" available. Items on the list include information like calendars for top agency officials and lobbying disclosure forms that can make it easier for the public to find out who federal officials are hearing from and how it is shaping their policy choices. During last year's Sunshine Week the White House directed agencies to begin making some of the items on the list available. Unfortunately, our latest check on agency compliance with the Sunshine Week directive shows that many agencies must have missed the memo. GSA is meeting the White House's directive, and has made many of the types of information on the list easily available from its /open page. We hope more agencies will follow GSA's lead.
Any Thing Else We'd Like to See?
- Yes. More Regularly Updated /Open Pages. A recent review of each agency's open government page showed that some agencies apparently have not or barely updated their open government page over the last two years. A stale open government page makes the creation of the /open page, the development of an open government plan, etc., seem like the agency is merely checking the boxes required of it by the Administration. Other agencies like the National Archives and Records Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and NASA have integrated their /open pages in to the way the agency operates.
The Obama Administration has also committed to Support and Improve Agency Implementation of Open Government Plans and to monitor agency implementation of the plans. We and our partners will be evaluating the Administration’s accomplishments in this area.