Thad Anderson, a Washington, D.C., -based attorney and blogger, has thought a lot about government transparency and freedom of information. He proposes that the Obama Administration should not only appoint a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), but a Government Transparency Officer (GTO) as well.
Thad writes that a GTO should be a politically independent officer who would serve as an ombudsman of sorts for the American people. The GTO’s office would:
1. Operate a user-friendly website which would serve a portal for various forms of government information. 2. Serve as an ombudsman who would advocate on behalf of citizens’ access to information.
In an email, Thad said that he thought that the toughest part would be maintaining political independence and that he’s not sure what would the best way to structure it to ensure that. “On the other hand,” he writes, “even if the office was not independent, and was similar to the Press Secretary, but responding to citizens and the media rather than just the media, it would be better than the void in that area now.”
The last Congress attempted to create something similar, but not nearly as broad as Thad’s proposal (nor probably as web saavy) but it essentially got deep-sixed by the last Administration. The Open Government Act of 2007 established the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), a FOIA ombudsman to provide independent oversight and settle disputes over FOIA requests within the National Archives. The law authorized funds to address backlogs in the requests and resolve the requests in a timely manner. Instead of housing the OGIS at the National Archives, the administration tried to put it at the Department of Justice where Congressional proponents and open government advocates feared the OGIS it would die.
Fortunately, Congress prevailed , and the office will be at National Archives as soon as the funding comes through likely in March, according to Amy Fuller , program associate at OpenTheGovernment.org.