One year of Obama's open gov directive

Wednesday - 12/8/2010, 4:14pm EST

Patrice McDermott, OpenTheGovernment.org, and David Stern, America Speaks

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Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Obama administration's transparency and open government initiative.

In his memo to federal agencies, President Obama said he was committed to creating "an unprecedented level of openness in government."

Now, one year later, Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org and David Stern, director of online engagement at America Speaks, joined the DorobekINSIDER to discuss what more needs to be done.

McDermott and America Speaks' Carolyn Lukensmeyer write in Federal News Radio that agencies have made progress but there is still "a long road ahead."

"The default switch is maybe halfway moved between secret and open," McDermott told the DorobekINSIDER.

Although agencies are putting more information online, the government still lags in processing Freedom of Information Act requests, she said.

The information requested through FOIA is valuable to understand what government is doing and how policies are set, McDermott said. This is also the information that is "harder for the agency to let go of and put up and make available," she said.

Stern said agencies must do more outreach for transparency to have a practical effect.

"It's not just Field of Dreams -- if you put it up there they will come," Stern said.

Open government should be a "two-way conversation," he said. The public can offer some good ideas that can improve policy, Stern said.

Right now, however, agencies are only "dipping their toes in the water" when it comes to collaboration.

A much broader change that has to happen is perhaps cultural within agencies and across government, McDermott said.

Some agencies have set up internal wikis and blogs to elicit suggestions from employees. However, similar government-wide projects have not been as successful. People may be hesitant about whether or not they are authorized to comment on behalf of an agency, McDermott said.

The fallout from WikiLeaks may further challenge agencies' move toward greater transparency.

"Already the drums are beating on the Hill to create new laws to make disclosure criminal," McDermott said.

The impact on government transparency from WikiLeaks is something McDermott's group is "deeply concerned" about.

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