Ten months after pledge, Obama releases openness plan
On Dec. 8, President Barack Obama issued the long-awaited Open Government Directive. The directive sets a schedule for agencies to meet various goals related to access to information.
Announced by Obama’s Chief Technology Officer (and former Virginia Secretary of Technology) Aneesh Chopra, the directive was developed with public input as part of the Open Government Initiative.
The directive tells agencies to share information with the public through “online, open, accessible, machine-readable formats,” according to a White House press release. Agencies are to inventory existing information and establish time lines for publishing the inventories online.
Each agency has 45 days to identify and register three “high-value data sets” that were not previously available online.
The directive also requires every agency to create an Open Government Plan and Web site, specific to the agency rather than relying on one-size-fits-all templates, within 60 days.
And within 120 days, agencies must publish an Open Government Plan that would address three principles of open government: transparency, participation and collaboration.
Stephen Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists predicted that because the directive included well-defined milestones and deadlines, “it will soon be clear whether and to what extent the new openness initiative succeeds.”
Patrice McDermott of OpenTheGovernment.com said that “Far from representing the end of the process, today’s announcement is the beginning of an on-going effort to build transparency and accountability into the way government operates.”
The National Security Archives’ Meredith Fuchs noted, however, what the directive does not do, such as failing to include any negative incentives for failure to comply. Fuchs also noted that the directive does not touch many of the thorniest secrecy issues, such as keeping records related to the warrantless surveillance program under wraps, as the Bush administration did.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation was similarly cautious.
“While we applaud the Obama Administration for continuing to say the right things about government transparency . . . we can’t ignore the fact that the White House continues to be less than forthcoming about some of its own practices and policies,” wrote EFF Senior Counsel David Sobel, noting that two FOIA requests EFF made of the White House in January and February remain unanswered.
On the same day the directive was released, Judicial Watch sued the Obama Administration for access under the Freedom of Information Act to unreleased White House visitor logs.
The release also came just two days after a workshop for federal employees on government openness was closed to the public.
Speaking to The Associated Press, Miriam Nisbet, director of the new Office of Government Information Services, said the event was closed to ensure there was enough room for all employees to attend.
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