Obama Transparency Initiative Lacks Political Will, Advocates Say

President Obama in March 2015. President Obama in March 2015. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

The Obama administration’s commitment to improve transparency in government is flagging, according to a report released Wednesday by a coalition of 23 civil society advocacy groups.

Of 16 goals set out in the U.S. government’s Second National Action Plan to do its part for the international Open Government Partnership, only one is fully completed, according to specialists’ analysis. The remaining 15 were “ranked has having limited to substantial progress.”

“The report highlights the shortcomings in the completion rate, lack of political mandate and follow-through, and need for greater focus on civil society and government collaboration,” said a statement from OpenTheGoverment.org. Initiatives fell short in such categories as spending transparency, Freedom of Information Act enforcement, participatory budgeting, whistleblower protection, surveillance and privacy compliance.

As it has in the past, the coalition criticized the Office of Management and Budget for not updating the 2010 Open Government Agency Plan for improving transparency. (OMB did not respond to Government Executive’s request for comment.)

Obstacles to progress, according to the specialists, include “absence of political will, need for greater leadership; corporate opposition; and lack of a timeline with specific benchmarks.” Another roadblock is “a deeply engrained culture of secrecy” to protect U.S. foreign intelligence surveillance programs.

The U.S. government is now four months into implementation of a third National Action Plan. Wednesday’s report is the fourth such evaluation of the second action plan.

“Despite general frustration with collaboration, the relationships that have been built through the work on OGP -- sometimes with hard-won trust on each side -- will be essential to efforts to implement both the pledges made and other open government policy work, as the executive branch transitions from this administration to the next,” said OpenTheGovernment.org Executive Director Patrice McDermott.

For civil society groups to continue to commit resources to “helping the U.S. government fulfill its Open Government Partnership Pledges,” the coalition said, they must see improvements and “a deeper commitment to openness measures.”

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