Groups want transparency in the spotlight

OMB Watch has circulated a sign-on letter among transparency groups urging the administration to "open the open government directive process" to the public.

As the Office of Management and Budget, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the General Services Administration prepare to issue recommendations for how agencies can show transparency, public participation and collaboration outlined by President Obama on his first day in office, public interest groups want a chance to weigh in.

They hope the Thursday deadline set by Obama on Jan. 21 will be delayed to permit public consultation and allow for the confirmation of Aneesh Chopra, the nominee for chief technology officer and a key player in the process.

Chopra appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday. If confirmed, he will be an assistant to the president and will hold the formal title of OSTP associate director for technology. Regardless of his official status, Chopra will honor the president's request with a proposal to meet the 120-day target, but it will not be the final product, a White House official told last week.

Meanwhile, OMB Watch has circulated a sign-on letter among transparency groups urging the administration to "open the open government directive process" to the public.

"You can't talk about public access without the public; that's the bottom line," OMB Watch Executive Director Gary Bass said on Monday. He wants a formula that involves both "old-school" and "new-school" methods -- a standard 60-day Federal Register notice and comment process and a Web-based platform for sharing, viewing and discussing interested parties' comments.

Bass pointed to several examples of the kind of openness he is looking for, including OSTP's blog-based solicitation for comments on Obama's March memorandum on scientific integrity and OMB's request for recommendations on a new executive order for federal regulatory review that took place on the Web site

One flaw in the OMB process, Bass said, was that comments from agency heads and employees were not made public. He wants that input disclosed as part of the transparency conversation.

Another option is an online dialogue like the one administered last month for how to improve the stimulus Web site, Sunlight Foundation Executive Director Ellen Miller said.

"It seems nonsensical and absurd to present a recommendation to the president with respect to the open government directive without using some of the new social media tools they have embraced before," she said. "This document is really going to set the stage for how government should use technology so you want to get that right."

Agency and department heads as well as legal, policy and programmatic staffers across the government have been asked to offer comments on the directive. A February memo from OSTP Director John Holdren, OMB Director Peter Orszag and GSA Acting Administrator Paul Prouty instructed them to "propose topics, strategize alternatives, and make suggestions" through an internal information sharing system. It is unclear whether those submissions will be made public.