Statements on the US and the Open Government Partnership

Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org:

"Today the US government released a draft set of commitments to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) that are simultaneously inspiring and disappointing: the Administration's latest promises to make it easier for the public to ask for and receive government information show that the government can work with civil society to create a realistic plan to increase openness and accountability.

 

At the same time, however, the windows of opportunity for securing a legacy of openness are beginning to close. Unless the government addresses key issues of accountability, including secret law (such as that underpinning the expansion of National Security Agency's (NSA) surveillance programs) in the Plan, the Administration will have let a large window close. We look forward to collaborating with the government to expand and implement the commitments that we expect will be finalized in December

Read more statements from our partners and allies below

Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project On Government Oversight — POGO (Read the full statement here)

On Thursday, the White House released a preview of its second National Action Plan for the international Open Government Partnership, whose mission is to increase openness and accountability among its member countries. While some of the draft commitments line up with our recommendations for openness, the plan is silent on the critical reforms needed to address some of the most troubling areas of secrecy: protecting whistleblowers, reducing over-classification, and curbing secret law.

 

Administration officials have assured us that they intend to address these areas in the final version of its action plan, which will be released in December. We surely hope so.

 

We understand that recent revelations might make the Obama Administration's participation in the Open Government Partnership a little awkward at the moment. But if the U.S. is hoping to show that it's fully behind the partnership and its mission of increasing openness and accountability among its member countries, the Administration will have to do better than what it has shown thus far.

 

The world is watching and wondering how the U.S. can credibly claim advances in open government without addressing these critical issues in the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures on surveillance.

Sean Moulton, Director of Open Government Policy at the Center for Effective Government

The Obama administration's new transparency commitments will improve public access to important government information. The forthcoming U.S. National Action Plan includes commitments to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), improve information about government spending, and continue to progress on opening government data to use by the public.

 

The administration's plans to reform FOIA should make it easier and faster for the public to access information. We applaud the administration's commitment to develop a centralized website for submitting FOIA requests to any federal agency, to produce common FOIA regulations, and to improve agency FOIA processes and training.

 

The proposed improvements in USAspending.gov should also make data about government spending easier to find and use.

 

The Obama administration has indicated that today's announcements do not represent the full U.S. National Action Plan and that additional transparency commitments and details will be released in the coming weeks. We appreciate the administration's willingness to continue developing ambitious transparency reforms.

Kenneth Bunting, Executive Director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition

I have publicly commended the administration’s rhetorical embrace of openness and transparency, as well as some of its commendable initiatives.

 

However, the report was a tad self-congratulatory for my tastes. Unless there is a sea change, I am afraid this administration's legacy on openness will be marred by its overzealousness in going after leakers, whistleblowers and journalists; its use of secret law in FISA court matters and the NSA’s overreaching surveillance practices.

Ginger McCall, Federal Policy Manager at the Sunlight Foundation

Looking at the US' updated National Action Plan for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it’s possible to imagine a user-friendly website that allows for FOIA requesters to track their requests the same way they might track a UPS package (or a pizza order at Dominos). It’s also possible to imagine a progressive new set of regulations that makes FOIA easier for requesters and clarifies rules for agencies, a new set of training materials emphasizing openness and customer service, and a meaningful oversight body composed of FOIA experts and agency leaders. But these things are only possible if the Obama Administration follows through, taking the time to collaborate with open government experts and hammer out concrete details, instead of painting broad strokes and expecting secretive agencies to fill in the rest.

Andrew Rosenberg, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists

This draft plan shows a sincere attempt by the administration to make our government more transparent and accountable. But we are disappointed that the White House's preliminary plan fails to consider the role of scientific integrity in ensuring that federal science that informs agencies is not undermined by corporate and political interference. Until such interference is identified, through public disclosure of visitor logs to agency officials and the changes agency rules undergo and the reasons for those changes, we will not achieve crucial accountability. Also vital to openness is a recognition by all federal agencies of the right of scientists to speak openly about their work, without fear of retribution, a right the White House has supported and must now ensure is implemented.

Porter McConnell, Manager of the Financial Transparency Coalition

We are glad to see the United States reaffirm its recent G8 commitments to corporate transparency. The next step will be for the Obama administration to commit to making concrete progress on this front – especially in Congress. Coming off the heels of Prime Minister David Cameron's historic announcement that the UK will put in place a public registry of the beneficial owners behind shell companies, the U.S. has an opportunity to join with its close trading partner to demonstrate that it is both possible and practical to crack down on the corruption, money laundering, and tax evasion that robs both poor and rich countries of billions of dollars each year.

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