Don’t let open government leadership lapse

Photo credit: Chuck Kennedy/Official White House photo

President Obama entered office with a pledge to lead the most transparent administration in history and followed up that lofty rhetoric with some hard policy.

Despite notable stumblings along the way, President Obama has devoted energy towards fulfilling his open government vision and achieved some positive change, particularly when it comes to thinking about how to release government data.

Unfortunately, even the successes of the past six years are at risk of falling by the wayside as staff changes and crisis response threaten to shift priorities and interrupt the progress that the federal government has made.

We have been particularly concerned at a recent rash of turnover at all levels of the White House’s technology policy shop. Most of the energy behind President Obama’s open data policy has left government or shifted its attention to other areas.

A recent Federal Computer Week article argued that, despite that turnover, open government efforts are in good hands because the administration is still committed to its nascent open source policy. Commitment to this policy is important, as we highlighted earlier this week, but it is far from a commitment to the wider ecosystem of open government efforts that the President pledged in 2008.

Economic opportunity is not the only benefit of opening data. Building open source software is not the same as building an open and accountable government.

The administration needs to recognize this by continuing to put energy into implementing the open data executive order, by supporting congressional efforts — like the FOIA Improvement Act — to make it easier for citizens to access government information, continuing to strengthen federal spending data, supporting efforts to fight the corrosive influence of money in politics and following through with all of its Open Government Partnership commitments, not just the ones that will help it fight bad PR or potentially add a couple of points to the GDP.

Turnover is to be expected, especially as President Obama’s time in office slowly draws to a close, but the life of his open government promises shouldn’t end with the tenure of a few key staff. If momentum slows down now, transparency may seem to be optional for the next president. If our government’s future is to be an open and accountable one, President Obama must spend the next two years recommitting to the pledge he made on his first day in office.