Agencies finding added value in open government

Wednesday - 5/12/2010, 6:57am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller with FTA's Susan Camarena

Click below to hear the interview

Download mp3

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The White House's open government and transparency initiative is finding an unexpected companion at several agencies.

The work to make information more widely available is lifting knowledge management initiatives at the Transportation Department's Federal Transit Administration, the Veterans Affairs Department and the Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Barbara Pearson, the director of knowledge management at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, says her agency created a steering committee to develop the open government plan, and she was a member of the subcommittee on culture change.

"We are helping people understand why this change is necessary," Pearson says a recent conference on knowledge management sponsored by the 1105 Government Information Group in Washington. "We need to play up the benefits and work on each piece of the change one at a time."

Pearson says she was recruited to the subcommittee because of her experience in helping the bureau move to Microsoft's SharePoint application.

"We started small by convincing one group at a time to use it," she says. "The Office of the Chief Information Officer helped train people to use it, and it's the same concept as with open government. We have to train people to be more open."

Susan Camarena, the knowledge management officer at FTA, says the connection between the two efforts is stronger at her agency.

"Knowledge management looks at our business processes and share what we know so we do our business processes better," she says. "One is internally focused to begin with, and one is externally focused. Even with knowledge management, though, you know the knowledge you need to do your job is not only found only within the organization, it's external to your organization. These two approaches marry up very well and in fact, they complement each other."

Camarena says both initiatives require new or dramatically changed processes in order to better share information.

"Some of the tools are a little frightening to senior management because of the fact you can see something right away that someone just thought of," she says. "We have to educate them and everyone else that this will improve how people will work. We will do a much better job if we are informed, if we are aware and have a goal in mind for how we are using them."

To that end, FTA is piloting a knowledge management portal across three offices.

Camarena says the portal will help further promote the agency's culture of sharing.

"The portal is based on our business processes," she says. "We started doing that in the latter part of 2009 and we have come up with a skeleton of what that will look like using three different offices with three different business processes."

The three offices are the headquarters offices dealing with research and innovation, and congressional affairs, and a regional headquarters office.

She says the tool will provide a forum for collaboration and take a little bit of the mystery away for new employees about how things work at the agency. Camarena hopes to roll out the portal agencywide this October.

The other area Camarena sees similarities between open government and knowledge management is the need for baseline audits.

When she first came to FTA in 2007, Camarena developed a knowledge management audit and from there, developed a strategy.

She says for open government, a baseline audit and strategy also is important.

"The open government plan was focused more strategically because it was focused on all of DOT," Camarena says.

While open government is just getting started, knowledge management has taken hold at FTA. Camarena says people are using the term knowledge management at all levels, and some of the younger workers are looking for ways to capture and share institutional knowledge.

"I believe knowledge management has traction and people get it all levels," she says. "The benefit of what we know and using it and applying it for innovation can save us time and money, and make us better at doing our jobs."

(Copyright 2010 by FederalNewsRadio.com. All Rights Reserved.)