Obama open government project critiqued by transparency groups

Two years after President Obama issued his open government directive, his administration is highlighting agency accomplishments while transparency advocates propose improvements.

The Dec. 8, 2009, directive gave agencies deadlines of just months for ensuring disclosure of government information is the default stance, instilling greater citizen input in policymaking, and encouraging collaborative partnerships inside the government and with industry. In May 2009, the administration centralized government spending and research information on the website Data.gov.

But the results are mixed, according to outside critics. "Announcements about new transparency policies imagine the best possible impact, while implementation often looks to the minimum requirements," Sunlight Foundation Policy Director John Wonderlich wrote in a blog.

Slip-ups in agency compliance he cited include the Commerce secretary's failure to post a compliance schedule; the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy posting budget data for only four years; the Justice Department not posting data on Data.gov; the Homeland Security Department retracting a promise to release a schedule for new data; and the Defense Department absolving itself of deadlines and conducting internal reviews of its openness, Wonderlich said.

"Transparency proclamations are valuable, but the path to transparent government runs through a thousand fights over information," he said.

On Dec. 1, a coalition of groups called OpenTheGovernment.org presented Obama officials with a report on the administration's broader international transparency efforts along with specific suggested improvements. It based its judgments on the administration's September U.S. National Action Plan, which includes 26 commitments to help achieve 17 goals in working with eight other nations to increase government transparency worldwide.

The OpenTheGovernment.org report calls for greater monitoring of agency compliance with the open government directive, "professionalization" of Freedom of Information Act administration and increased declassification of national security information.

White House chief information and chief technology officers weighed in on Dec. 5. A blog by Steven VanRoekel and Aneesh Chopra highlighted "an important milestone" in the U.S. government's move to share with India an open-source code that eventually "will enable governments around the world to stand up their own open government data sites," a tool they called "Data.gov-in-a-Box."

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