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Obama Admin. Issues Open Gov Directive

December 8, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

On his first day in office, President Obama issued a memo to heads of all federal agencies and departments that outlined his principles for open government. In order to “strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness,” government should be transparent, participatory and collaborative, he wrote in the memo.

Today, the Obama Administration took the next step in his open government initiative by releasing a document, the Open Government Directive (.pdf), that directs the agencies and departments on how to implement the principles he laid out in January. It’s an 11-page document, written by Peter Orszag from the Office of Management and Budget, that spells out specific requirements and deadlines.

From a quick read through, it’s immediately clear that the Administration really gets openness and is serious about making it happen in government. For example, the first three points in the “Publish Government Information Online” would be a dream come true for people working with government data (like us at OpenCongress) if implemented well:

a. Agencies shall respect the presumption of openness by publishing information online (in addition to any other planned or mandated publication methods) and by preserving and maintaining electronic information, consistent with the Federal Records Act and other applicable law and policy. Timely publication of information is an essential component of transparency. Delays should not be viewed as an inevitable and insurmountable consequence of high demand.

b. To the extent practicable and subject to valid restrictions, agencies should publish information online in an open format that can be retrieved, downloaded, indexed, and searched by commonly used web search applications. An open format is one that is platform independent, machine readable, and made available to the public without restrictions that would impede the re-use of that information.

c. To the extent practical and subject to valid restrictions, agencies should proactively use modern technology to disseminate useful information, rather than waiting for specific requests under FOIA.

This sounds just like the kind of stuff that open government geeks have been writing about for years, but now it’s actually coming from the highest level of government. Very exciting, to say the least.

Now begins the make-or-break process of actually implementing the directive released today. As Nancy Scola at TechPresident explains, a lot of the success with implementation relies on a sort of cultural shift taking place within government agencies. “The open question on open government: what will it take to get a United States federal government that has a momentum towards secrecy to shift its orientation to one of transparency, participation, and collaboration?”

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  • deborahg6 12/09/2009 4:00am
    Link Reply
    + -1

    Propaganda and double speak. Government should be “participatory”? Sure, we had a taste of that this Summer with local town hall meetings. And what did our “transparent” government do? Ignore us. No thanks. Too little. Too late. Reading this actually gave me a good chuckle this morning. Transparency AFTER some of the most corrupt pieces of legislation have been shoved upon the American people and citizens have been literally robbed of their hard earned money for years and years to come. I read the bills proposed before Congress voted (on this site), I spoke out, and I was ignored. Blah, blah, blah…we’ll let you know how much we appreciate your transparency (I mean, corruption and arrogance) in the 2010 and 2012 elections.

  • disgusted 12/09/2009 4:28am
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    + -1
    Open government? – Do they intend have the “stimuli employment” people like SUEI, ACORN, etc. count OUR votes, ? I used to “vote”, from overseas, in Polk County, FL (algore country), or thought that I did – via absentee ballot. I have gotten to the point of where I do-not/can-not believe most/all reports “issued” by the govt! Actually – MOST of their propaganda – I hear (didn’t say “listen to”!) after it has been “filtered”, at least, three times – DOWN – to local level!
  • spender 12/09/2009 5:19am

    deborahg6 and disgusted:

    I’m not sure I follow your reasoning. Are you saying that (1)since you believe the government is corrupt, doesn’t count your votes, and robs people of their money, and (2)that no amount of participation will cause the government to pay attention to you and stop being corrupt, that openness is therefore stupid and that the government can just take all their information and cram it because you don’t care?

    Seems to me, the more evil and corrupt you think the government is, the more steadfastly you ought to be demanding everything be put on the Internet. But that could just be me.

  • Comm_reply
    deborahg6 12/09/2009 8:17am


    I’m not sure I follow your reasoning. Are you saying that our corrupt government is going to respond to their own deceptive practices by putting “everything on the Internet” and that we should believe what they graciously disclaim to us? Transparency? They’re throwing us a bone from their ivory towers as they rob the entire nation in plain view.

    How kind and benevolent of them to NOW become suddenly interested in being transparent with us! Billions and billions of dollars later…

    Don’t worry, we will not forget. 2010 and 2012…bring it!!

  • Comm_reply
    spender 12/10/2009 5:24am

    What I’m saying is that if you believe the government is corrupt, you should push for a law that requires them to disclose everything. And if you don’t believe they will disclose everything, then you have to push for them to. I don’t think the government will just say, “Oh, disclosure? Sure. Here’s everything on how bad we are.” But if disclosure become the law, start suing them. The more corrupt the government is the harder it’ll be to get everything disclosed. But the more corrupt the government is, the more important full disclosure becomes. No one said this was about passing a law and waiting for the government to benevolently hand us information. It’s about passing a law and then forcing the government to comply using the courts. That’s what courts are for.

    Your comment is too cynical. You seem to be saying that the government is so bad that nothing can fix it, so why try anything?

  • Comm_reply
    spender 12/10/2009 5:35am

    Not a law in this case, I realize, but it should still be enforceable by the courts. A law mandating openness might not be a bad idea, though.

    Also, I just realized that I referred to “government” as both “they” and “it” in the last post. Oops. It’s too early.

  • LucasFoxx 12/09/2009 1:21pm

    I knew we could count on this guy!

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