OSTP asks agencies for 'bold, ambitious' open government initiatives

Monday - 3/3/2014, 12:22pm EST

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

Download mp3

The administration's open government initiative has been quiet after its initial push during the first two years of President Barack Obama's administration. But new guidance from the Office of Science and Technology Policy is trying to reinvigorate agency efforts.

Chief Technology Officer Todd Park released a memo to agency leaders Feb. 24 detailing a series of new steps and updates to existing initiatives, including describing "bold, ambitious new open government initiatives for the coming two years."

Chief Technology Officer Todd Park (file photo)

"The 2014 Plans will provide an inspiring showcase of open government achievements to add to those achieved by agencies in past plans, such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's expansion of Web-streamed meetings so participants across the country can hear about existing and proposed nuclear sites, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's ongoing International Space Apps Challenges, which have encouraged thousands of innovators from around the globe to create tools to improve life on earth and in space," wrote Nick Sinai, the deputy CTO at OSTP, and Corinna Zarek, a policy advisor for open government at OSTP, in a blog post Friday.

Agencies face an initial deadline of April 1 to provide at least a two-page draft summary of their plans, including details about the "bold" initiative. Then by June 1, agencies have to make their revised open government plans public online and post them internally on the OMB MAX website.

"The new plans should: (a) provide highlights or an overview of achievements from your agency's 2012 Open Government Plan; (b) include status updates on major initiatives listed in preceding plans; (c) expand upon your agency's past open government efforts; (d) introduce bold, ambitious new open government initiatives for the coming two years; and (e) include links to additional relevant information on your agency's website," the memo stated. "If you anticipate significant progress on or relevant developments in your agency's open government efforts will outpace the cycle of new open government plans, we recommend providing a summary of the static information in the report along with a link to a dynamic page on your website."

More specifically, Park wants agencies to detail how they are meeting the requirements under the May 2013 open data memo to develop an inventory of data assets, how the agency is making data available for downloading, including the use of application programming interfaces (API).

"Further, your plan should include a description of how your agency is using data and information resources to increase agency accountability and responsiveness; improve public knowledge about your agency; further your agency's core mission; create economic opportunity; and respond to feedback received through public consultation," the memo stated.

OMB announced in December agency progress was slow toward meeting the open data goals.

"Agency open government plans are an important tool for strengthening their commitment to transparency," said Gavin Baker, an open government policy analyst for the Center for Effective Government. "The new guidance lays a strong foundation for the updated open government plans which agencies will develop. The guidance makes clear that the administration expects the plans to be broad and substantive in their approach to increasing openness. We hope agencies will seize the opportunity to make their work even more accessible to the public."

Park also wants agencies to include in the plans how they are proactively disclosing information, implementing privacy and whistleblower protections and website improvements to help the public find and use the datasets.

As for the ongoing open government initiatives, Park said agencies need to offer updates across 11 areas, including the department's participation in current transparency initiatives such as Data.gov, IT Dashboard and Regulations.gov.

"If your agency has a significant backlog, your plan must detail how your agency will reduce its pending backlog of outstanding Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by at least 10 percent each year," the memo stated. "Recognizing that all agencies can improve their FOIA performance, 2014 Plans should also include agency goals to further integrate a 'presumption of openness' through proposed changes, technological resources or reforms that your agency determines are needed to strengthen your response processes and improve customer service."

FOIA is one area where a group of good government organizations led by OpentheGovernment.org offered more specific suggestions.

"We hope that each agency's plan will describe the agency's process for identifying, prioritizing, and posting proactive disclosures on its website (or include an initiative to develop a proactive disclosure process)," the organization wrote. "Additionally, we hope that each plan will outline the agency's goals for improving or sustaining its performance in providing information under FOIA, including responsibly reducing backlogs."

OpentheGovernment.org said the Homeland Security Department and the Office of Personnel Management serve as good examples of agencies that have addressed FOIA challenges.

OpentheGovernment.org also offered ideas around making ethics information more accessible, creating online forms to make disclosure easier, releasing an enterprise data inventory and increasing the disclosure of financial information.

RELATED STORIES:

Open data order, policy ushers in new norm

White House says agencies slowly meeting open data milestones

White House releases second open government action plan

Patience running thin with White House open government efforts