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Open Data Executive Order Compliance: The Bad and The Good.

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The first major deadline for agency compliance with President Obama's open data Executive Order arrived this past Saturday. Agencies were required to, among other things, provide the Office of Management and Budget with an "Enterprise Data Inventory" and release a list of all their public data via a /data page on their websites.

We had hopes that some agencies might choose to publicly release their entire Enterprise Data Inventories, providing a full picture of their data holdings. Unfortunately, so far, that does not seem to have happened. Until the full inventories are available, the public will still be stuck in the dark, not knowing what we don’t know about government data holdings.

Nonetheless, most cabinet level agencies, as well as a number of independent agencies that were not required to comply, have taken steps to publicly fulfill the other aspects of the Executive Order. Levels of compliance have been varied, but we will try to highlight some of the worst and best examples below.

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Looking Towards Next Week’s Open Data Executive Order Deadline

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White HouseNovember 30th marks the first major deadline for agency compliance with President Obama’s Open Data Executive Order and accompanying Memorandum M-13-13. In addition to representing an important step in the march towards open government and proper data management, this is an opportunity to evaluate agencies, identify best practices, and advocate for change. The Executive Order will continue to be implemented over the coming months and years, but agencies should, and will, be judged on how much effort they put into this first deadline. The level of agency compliance now will be a clear representation of how seriously they take the Executive Order.

Guidance issued alongside the Executive Order provides a strong roadmap for agency participation, but leaves some important points up for interpretation. Notably, agencies are given too much leeway to keep even the existence of their data secret.

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House keeps DATA Act momentum moving

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CapitolDome_painting_istock_smallLast night the House took an important bipartisan step towards greater government transparency by passing the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, H.R. 2061 (DATA Act) on a near unanimous vote. The DATA Act will significantly improve the transparency of federal spending data, as well as make it easier to use, by instituting strong, government-wide financial data standards. It will also ensure that more, and more accurate, data is made publicly available.

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Recent Developments Show Desire For Trade Talk Transparency

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Closed DoorsLast week we wrote about the recent trend towards secrecy in international trade negotiations, including a discussion of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a major agreement currently being hammered out. This week two developments have highlighted the broad desire, as well as the need, for more transparency in these talks. Yesterday Wikileaks released a draft chapter from the TPP dedicated to intellectual property. The leaked document represents the state of negotiation following a round of talks that took place on August 26-30th in Brunei. It includes notations detailing how each negotiating country feels about the various points still under contention.

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Don’t Let Farm Bill Limit Access to Information

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Farm1On Wednesday the Sunlight Foundation joined with more than 40 other organizations to urge members of the conference committee on the Farm Bill to maintain public access to vital information about agricultural and livestock operations. Language included in the House passed version of the Farm Bill, which is serving as the basis for conference negotiations, would undermine the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and prevent the public from accessing information that might have a direct effect on their quality of life. Similar language was previously removed from the Senate version of the bill. The language, which is very broad and very vague, requires the government to withhold basic information about the location of livestock and agricultural operations. The language was intended to protect the privacy of small family farms, but it is so broad that it can be applied to large corporate operations. Furthermore, there are already strong exemptions in the FOIA for personal, private information that provide small farmers with protection. You can view the full text of the letter here, or by clicking below.

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Where’s the G8 Open Data Charter Action Plan?

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G8 FlickrEarlier this year the United States, along with the other G8 countries, signed on to an Open Data Charter. The document represented a high-level, international commitment to open data and transparency. It committed G8 countries to five important open data principles, including making open data the default. The document required signatories to release action plans for implementing the Charter by the end of October. Thanks to a tip from our friends at the German chapter of the Open Knowledge Foundation we've found that, so far, only Britain and Italy have released their full plans (Japan has a draft plan available). There has been no talk, that we can find, about the U.S. action plan.

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Senate Committee Marks Up DATA Act, Clearing Way For Further Action

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Credit Cards FlickrYesterday morning, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs considered and passed the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) on a voice vote. The original legislation, introduced by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mark Warner (D-VA), was replaced by an amendment in the nature of a substitute co-introduced by a number of committee members, including Senator Portman, and passed unanimously. The amended legislation retains the soul of the original bill, which aims to standardize and open federal spending data, while making some concerning changes. Specifically, the Senate's new version scraps strong accountability mechanisms in an effort to keep costs down and fails to solve some governance problems that have long limited accurate federal spending data.

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A Brief History of Secretive Trade Negotiations

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Over the past two years there has been a steady drip of stories about the secretive negotiations regarding the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Members of Congress and congressional staffers have been stymied in their efforts to perform some measure of oversight while major corporations have reportedly been given unfettered access and influence over the deal. The public has been kept almost completely in the dark regarding negotiations that affect everything from food prices to our ability to innovate on the Internet. The TPP is just the most recent in a growing stable of not-so-transparent negotiations.

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