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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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