Open Government Group Gives Obama a Mixed Report

Orhan Cam/

The Obama administration deserves credit for making a bigger open government effort than its predecessors, but the public has not seen the promised “new culture of openness,” said a study released Sunday by the Center for Effective Government (formerly OMB Watch.)

To kick off Sunshine Week on government transparency, the center offered a series of recommendations for agency improvements, especially in the national security area.

“In response to a White House mandate, some agencies developed detailed blueprints for strengthening open government, while others failed to make concrete commitments,” said the study authored by Sean Moulton and Gavin Baker. “Some have embraced a shift to electronic records and have plans on how to manage electronic information, while others lag. Some developed strong policies to protect scientific information from political interference, while others mustered only vague guidelines. But across-the-board improvements have been rare due to inconsistent enforcement, staff turnover, congressional inaction and uncertain funding.”

In a timeline and review of recent history, the center credited the Obama administration for “a grand vision for more open and participatory government” during its first term, and “a policy foundation that can make that vision a reality, issuing an impressive number of directives, executive orders, plans, and other actions.” The job, however, is “unfinished” in part because “the actual implementation of open government policies within federal agencies has been inconsistent and, in some agencies, weak,” the report said.

To make good on its vow to be “the most transparent” administration in U.S. history, the analysts wrote, the Obama team “must encourage agencies to establish environments that embrace openness; improve the accessibility and reliability of public information; and dramatically transform its policies on national security secrecy.”

In that area, the authors were disappointed that the White House “adopted minor reforms on the state secrets privilege, which allows the government to seek dismissal of lawsuits that could reveal sensitive security information, and failed to include better court review of state secrets claims. The administration has continued to use secret 'laws' to make controversial decisions without oversight, to disallow legal challenge, and to withhold key decisions and memoranda that have the force of law from public scrutiny.’’

Among the report’s concrete recommendations were:

  • Appoint a senior White House official with authority to oversee the implementation of open government policies;
  • Enact the DATA ACT and Freedom of Information Act and declassification reforms (the DATA Act would harmonize agency expense reporting formats and impose a universal reporting requirement for recipients of federal grants, loans and contracts);
  • Ask agency heads to develop an open government implementation plan and tap a senior agency official with responsibility;
  • Modernize agency information technology with benchmark requirements over the next four years; and
  • Renounce the Justice Department’s of use of criminal prosecution for media leaks and institute greater protection of employees’ First Amendment rights.

In preparing the report, the center consulted with an array of allies in the nonprofit open-government community, among them the Project on Government Oversight, the Project on Government Secrecy, the Center for Responsive Politics, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

(Image via Orhan Cam/

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.