Obama administration two-sided on openness, expert says

Tuesday - 3/13/2012, 12:17pm EDT

Angela Canterbury, director of Public Policy, Project on Government Oversight

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Every year in March, journalist groups focus on openness and transparency in government as part of "Sunshine Week."

While the Project on Government Oversight is focused on those topics year-round, Sunshine Week is an opportunity for the group to remind people about the importance of openness in government.

"Our lens for open government is really about accountability," said Angela Canterbury, POGO's director of Public Policy. "Interestingly, the Obama administration has defined the values of openness as transparency, collaboration and participation but not accountability, per se. Our vision is to have a more open government so that we can hold the government accountable to taxpayers."

Canterbury told The Federal Drive with Tom Temin Tuesday that openness in the federal government varies widely from agency to agency.

"Overall, the Obama administration has been very two-sided on transparency and accountability through the lens of open government," Canterbury said. "On one hand, there have been sweeping promises to be the most open administration in history, and there have been some very positive steps."

Some agencies have created open government plans under the President's open government directive, while others have been less than forthcoming, particularly when it comes to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Canterbury was pleased that many agencies were reducing the backlog of FOIA requests, though it remained unclear whether this was because people were actually receiving the information they requested or agencies were closing cases by denying FOIA requests.

When asked what agency was doing the best job of meeting POGO's accountability expectations, Canterbury said it was difficult to award "a blue ribbon prize."

"I will say that a department we've been really critical of over the years, the Department of Interior, which had many, many failings leading up to the BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, has taken several steps to reorganize their agencies and to create less conflicts and more openness," she said.

In particular, POGO was pleased to see Interior's efforts in strengthening its scientific integrity and separating the way it regulates the oil industry from the way it receives royalties from oil and gas.

"I would give the Department of the Interior high marks for making progress," Canterbury said.