Last month, we shared our thoughts on the issue of money in politics and posed six questions for those running for president in 2016. Since then, we’ve been happy to see several campaigns release plans for how they would address this critical issue, and we hope the topic of fixing our broken campaign finance system will remain a part of the 2016 conversation. Now we’d like to turn our attention to the issues of open government and open data.
While partisan warfare is the not-so-new-normal in Washington, with Democrats and Republicans fighting over seemingly trivial issues, open government and open data are at the top of a very short list of areas that have seen bipartisan agreement and action over the past several years.
Congress came together in 2014 to pass landmark open data legislation, the DATA Act, that makes details about federal spending more accessible, trustworthy and useful to all Americans. It has also found broad areas of agreement on reforms to help refresh the Freedom of Information Act. And they have slowly, but surely begun to modernize their own internal operations.
The executive branch of the federal government has opened up vast swaths of data to the public, finding new efficiencies in our healthcare system, sparking innovation in our education system and allowing the public to better understand the operations and challenges of the bureaucracy. They have tackled inefficiencies in our contracting system and embraced open source solutions to common problems.
This bipartisan commitment to openness is changing the way business is done in Washington, it’s making our government more effective and it’s bringing a new age of transparency to complex and often opaque operations. But there is so much more to be done.
With public trust in federal agencies and congressional representatives at historic lows, openness, efficiency and ethics should be at the top of every elected official, political appointee and agency employee’s plans for the next four years. As the election season progresses, each candidate should be preparing a policy platform that includes an explicit commitment to a more open and data-driven government, one that embraces the emerging field of civic tech.
Voters deserve answers from each 2016 presidential candidate on the following questions:
- Are you committed to institutionalizing new approaches intended to usher in more open technology processes in the federal government, like the U.S. Digital Service and 18F?
- Are you committed to reforming the Freedom of Information Act to ensure a default to openness and an end to overreliance on exemptions to withhold information that should rightly be public?
- Are you committed to continue the push to help the American public understand the true extent of the federal government’s data holdings while ensuring that agencies maintain and release data in machine-readable, electronic, nonproprietary formats?
- Are you committed to making the White House more open and ethical by releasing your visitor logs in a timely fashion as well as limiting the revolving door between high level political positions and the private sector?
- Are you committed to continued participation in international efforts to promote open government around the world — such as the Open Government Partnership — and to leverage this participation into actionable change in the federal government?
- Are you committed to opening up government spending information by fully implementing the DATA Act and continuing to release more data about grants, contracts and other government spending?
- Are you committed to taking necessary steps to ensure that vital electronic records are managed and stored in a way that ensures their availability to future generations and, where appropriate, released in the short term under FOIA?
The modern, and hopefully bipartisan, definition of “good government” should be a government that is transparent and open, embracing a new civic expectation that citizens, activists and journalists deserve access to information that has previously been walled off from them. Technology makes this goal even more achievable, and so we hope that all candidates will share their thoughts about the kind of government they would like run if they prevail next November.