The road to greater transparency begins with culture change

Monday - 3/23/2009, 6:43am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

White House officials say examples of open government will help alter perceptions

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
FederalNewsRadio

During his short time as the federal chief information officer, Vivek Kundra has often talked about the need to move to cloud computing. The government needs to use the agility of putting applications and services on the Internet so employees and citizens can access them from anywhere, at any time.

Kundra says there may even be a need for three separate Internet clouds.

During a presentation on a Webinar sponsored by Openthegovernment.org March 20, Kundra, who was a part of the technology team during the presidential transition, said there was some discussion about the federal agencies needing a public cloud, a federal cloud for sensitive but unclassified information and a cloud for feds to communicate with state and local governments.

"We need to rethink the way grants are issued," he says. "If Maryland, Virginia and the District receive grants around similar and specific programs, they cannot deploy common technologies jointly. If we could have a cloud they could do that in, we could cut the cost of rolling out services by 60-to-70 percent."

This was one suggestion Kundra made for how to make government more open and transparent.

"Part of what we are looking at is rationalizing the $71 billion the federal government spends on technology," he says. "We want to bake transparency in from the beginning in how we architect systems. We also need to recognize that we need to put data in the hands of the public."

Kundra reiterated his goal of establishing Data.gov to put agency data out there for the public to use and create innovative applications for.

He says data standards are key to the effort. In fact, after the Openthegovernment.org event, Kundra, his staff from the Office of Management and Budget, including chief architect Kshemendra Paul, where meeting with some of the open government groups to work on the architecture and data standards issue.

"As we roll out platforms that enable transparency, we have to look at data and data feeds to ensure they are not static," Kundra says. "We want data that is machine readable and data that you can slice and dice anyway you want."

He adds that the standards effort his office is leading to track Recovery Act spending through Recovery.gov is a starting point that may be scaled across government.

"We are looking at the business processes across the federal government," Kundra says. "It's amazing how many people it takes to move a business process. We don't just want to Webify it. We want to change it to make it more efficient, lower the friction and make it more transparent and open."

Kundra points to the work being done with the Recovery Act to track spending by agency.

"We've created a Treasury account for each agency," he says. "Anyone can see where the money is going, how much and for what purpose. We want state and local governments' information to be in these systems so we have to make sure it is done in with enterprise standards and enterprise architecture standards are so critical."

The White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy is leading the transparency effort. When President Obama names a chief technology officer, the White House has give indication the CTO will be in OSTP.

Beth Noveck works in OSTP, and gave a presentation during the Webinar.

"We are trying to drive three values: collaboration, transparency and participation," she says. "We want to engage with parallel processes to drive policy thinking across all three areas."

President Obama signed a memo his first day in office calling for more transparent and open government. Noveck says the memo asks for a roadmap in 120 days.

"This is the beginning of the process to change culture," she says. "We are running an interagency dialogue process online to generate much of the thinking about how we can change. Some of it will be through traditional policy processes, and other change will be done by pushing us to see the benefits of being collaborative and open."

Noveck says OSTP is playing the role of convener and working with OMB, the CIO Council and other parts of government to push for greater transparency.

"We are looking at projects and programs that demonstrate the importance of transparency," she says. "We want to get everyone engaged with the solution. That will be useful to drive the culture change we want."

Dan Chenok, a former OMB official and now senior vice president with Pragmatics, says there are both opportunities and challenges in moving toward a more transparent and open government.