In its first nine months in office, the Trump Administration has shown its antipathy to open government and international agreements. Therefore it comes as no surprise that the administration has delayed releasing a “National Action Plan” (NAP) to articulate goals for increasing government transparency and accountability.
The plan, schedule for release in October, is required as part of the United States’ participation in the Open Government Partnership (OGP). OGP is a multinational initiative that aims to encourage governments worldwide to commit to using transparency to fight corruption and empower citizens. Countries that commit to advance openness through OGP agree to create National Action Plans that outline reforms and accountability initiatives the government will take to become more open. The plans are to be created with the participation and involvement of civil society organizations and should reflect their priorities. The United States—a founding member of OGP—has submitted three national actions plans so far. OpenTheGovernment and our partners have been leading participants in the process of developing model commitments for inclusion in the plans and evaluating the progress and implementation of the United States’ OGP initiatives.
To be fair, a delay in submitting a country’s NAP does not necessarily mean a country is walking away from the goals and commitments of OGP. It is possible that the delay is intended to give the U.S. government time to create an aggressive plan that will address priorities such as accountability and ethics. Unfortunately, the signals from the President suggest it is not the intention of those at the highest levels of this administration to commit to meaningful, measurable goals that reflect the priorities of open government advocates and other members of civil society. This administration has already withdrawn from prior specific transparency commitments, such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – a corruption-fighting effort involving governments, corporations and civil society groups that promotes greater transparency in the oil, gas and mining sectors. The administration has also rescinded various prior commitments related to law enforcement transparency and accountability efforts. More broadly, an administration that has been antagonistic to a free press, withheld the presidents’ tax returns, kept secret White House Visitors logs, targeted protesters for surveillance and monitoring, and backed out of commitments to disclose information about warrantless surveillance programs, seems unlikely to embrace meaningful commitments under a voluntary, international agreement.
Although most indicators suggest the fight for openness will be a continued uphill battle, a few hopeful signs remain. We are heartened that those in the trenches, newcomers to the government as well as veterans, continue to make strides towards advancing openness and accountability, for example, through their individual agency open government plans, which include commitments that are intended to ensure that, among other things, the work of agencies is publicly accessible. Since we can’t expect top down leadership on transparency and accountability, we expect progress to work its way from the bottom up, and we applaud those individuals fighting the good fight to ensure the public can remain informed about the work of its government.
*By Lisa Rosenberg, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment