Anticipating Agency Plans

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Today is April 7th, one of the major deadlines set in the Open Government Directive.

It’s a big day for Open Government.

After an unprecedented year-long public process, that followed President Obama’s memo issued on his first full day in office, December’s directive from the Office of Management and Budget set today as the deadline for agencies to produce Open Government Plans.

While the administration has undertaken a number of other initiatives outside the main Open Government Initiative (like strenthening ethics rules, creating Data.gov, or publishing visitor logs, to name a few), the Directive is the main vehicle through which the administration is working to create more fundamental change.

If the Directive is the primary vehicle for President Obama’s transparency initiative, then today is the day that effort becomes agencies’ responsibility too.  Starting today, agencies are required to take responsibility for their openness in a new, publicly accountable way.  That’s what these plans are about — forcing agencies to take responsibility.

For this handoff to work, though, the plans need to create real change, and real accountability.  It would be all too easy for agencies to construct a bureaucratic shield against real, transformative, often uncomfortable change.  Easier to create committees about committees, and plans about plans, than it is to release information and deal directly with the public.  Instead, now is our chance to create a more open, collaborative federal government.  To be sure that happens, we need to distinguish between real engagement with complex problems, and bureaucratic evasion.

That’s the perspective we’re bringing to today.  It’s should be a historic moment for transparency, and a handoff of enormous scale.  For the President’s clear commitment to transparency to translate to real change in agencies, everyone involved — the White House, agencies, and the public at large, needs to engage in both sides of accountability — both encouragement and criticism.

We’re going to be focused especially on the requirements of the Directive for Agencies plans to generate access to agencies’ data, which I’ll be sharing more about shortly.  (especially this provision: )

A strategic action plan for transparency that (1) inventories agency high-value information currently available for download; (2) fosters the public’s use of this information to increase public knowledge and promote public scrutiny of agency services; and (3) identifies high value information not yet available and establishes a reasonable timeline for publication online in open formats with specific target dates. High-value information is information that can be used to increase agency accountability and responsiveness; improve public knowledge of the agency and its operations; further the core mission of the agency; create economic opportunity; or respond to need and demand as identified through public consultation.

Sunlight is also happy to be participating in an evaluation of agencies’ plans that OpenTheGovernment.org has organized, and will be taking place over the next few weeks.

Update: Here is our press statement previewing the day: http://sunlightfoundation.com/presscenter/releases/2010/04/07/federal-agencies-mark-milestone-today-open-governm/

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