OpenTheGovernment.org is taking deep dives into civil society’s evaluation of the implementation of the US National Action Plan, and taking a look at the lessons learned from the government’s self-assessment. During the evaluation process, a few teams grappled with addressing commitments that were vague, long-finished, or unevenly and incompletely implemented across agencies. As the administration gears up to create the next National Action Plan, how can we better ensure civil society and the White House’s ability to hold agencies accountable? We recommend that the next plan set milestones and guidelines for agency implementation, especially for multi-agency initiatives.
Setting clear expectations for what agencies must do to successfully implement an Administration initiative makes it easier for government officials and civil society organizations to know whether an agency is making progress, and to hold an agency’s feet to the fire if it fails to meet deadlines. The Records Management Directive released by the Archivist and the Director of the Office for Management and Budget, for example, includes clear deadlines and deliverables to ensure agencies are making progress toward effectively managing government records.
It was harder for evaluators to determine whether a commitment was met for initiatives that lacked this kind specificity. For example, the Administration released the Regulatory Compliance Memo on January 18, 2012, in relation to the commitment to improve regulatory enforcement by providing agency enforcement and compliance data online. According to the evaluation, though, only a handful of agencies have released plans in compliance with the Memo and there is a lack of uniformity in the plans: some agencies have described improvement processes on their websites and others in regulatory compliance data plans. Even where an agency has articulated an improvement process, it may not be useful because it is unclear or has not been regularly updated.
In another example, the Administration would increase progress in the delivery of foreign assistance transparency by publishing an agency-by-agency implementation schedule. The evaluation of the commitment said that an implementation schedule specific to each agency is crucial to hold agencies to account for this progress and ensure resources are devoted to improve each agency's efforts to the publication of more and better aid information. Setting milestones and guidelines will help the US move forward in the OGP’s “race to the top.”
If your organization would like to be party of civil society’s effort to set high standards in the second National Action Plan, contact us here.