Half of U.S. Cabinet agencies fail to comply with Open Government Directive

President Obama signing a bill into law
President Obama’s Open Government Directive needs to wrangle agencies lagging behind. (Photo credit: Office of U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow/Flickr)

2,473 days after President Barack Obama issued an Open Government Directive, half of the 15 Cabinet agencies of the United States have not complied with the most basic aspect of the executive order: publishing an open government plan on their open website. As you can see in the spreadsheet embedded below, eight agencies have not published a new plan, as required every two years: The Departments of Treasury, Interior, Commerce, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, Energy, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security. Six have: the Departments of State, Justice, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Transportation and Education. One, the Department of Defense, has claimed to publish a new plan but has a link to the 2014 version. We’ll continue to build and update the spreadsheet below as a living document as agencies update their /open websites and publish plans.

While the White House Office of Management and Budget has published its first plan since 2010, Veterans Affairs has not updated its plan since then. Given the importance of transparency and accountability regarding the service and care veterans receive, this absence goes beyond regrettable to national embarrassment. The absence of a plan would be more apparent if the White House had not removed its Open Government Dashboard from its website years ago. Non-Cabinet agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Archives and NASA, by way of contrast, not only produced a plan but published drafts ahead of time for comment.

Sunlight has looked at where agencies stand on open government plans many times over the years, documenting failures and reflecting on the difference between aspirational goals and the mandate for change that legislation enacts. Self-defined plans and self-assessment of progress are an insufficient record of an administration’s legacy on open government. While the guidance that the White House provided asked the right questions, the lack of answers from the agencies not only calls into question the Obama administration’s commitment to open government but the extent to which its legacy will be baked into the next administration. When the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has an empty/open page, with no plan, contact information, FOIA data or progress report of any kind, it leaves the public with an understandable impression that the executive order by the President of the United States has no teeth.

We urge the White House to take meaningful, immediate action to bring all federal agencies into compliance with the President’s order. If not, history will not be a kind judge of the administration’s inability to clear the bar it has set for itself.