Transparency: Change You can Trust

In 2008, we heard a lot about "change." In this 2009 year-end summary, we use another type of "change" to rate the Obama administration’s transparency efforts thus far.

Open Government Vision

2009 opened up with a roar when President Obama used his inaugural address to promise a new era of sunlight with regard to government actions. The president followed up the next day with a memo ordering certain top officials to develop an Open Government Directive in 120 days. The directive would establish actions to be taken by agencies in an effort to move toward a government that is transparent, participatory, and collaborative. Although the process for developing the directive was experimental and sometimes rough, and even though it took longer than anticipated, the administration delivered the goods in strong fashion. This and several additional actions by the new administration have begun to forge an expansive vision for open government that is unmatched by previous administrations.

The Open Government Directive earns an impressive one-dollar coin in change for its vision and breadth, setting a clear new direction for government transparency. Shortly after the directive was released, top cabinet agencies followed through with commitments to undertake specific open government initiatives. 2009 has been marked by much talk of "change," and this action represents no mere penny-ante change.

The president called for progress on three main principles – transparency, participation, and collaboration – and the directive delivers on all three with specific requirements and deadlines for all agencies. The directive comprises four main components centered on very simple but important themes – publishing information; creating a culture of openness; improving data quality; and updating policies to allow for greater openness.

The proof will, of course, be in the pudding. The directive provides an ambitious timeline for implementation of its various requirements. The question remains how vigilant the White House will be in pushing agency compliance, how active agencies will be in pursuing the spirit of the directive, and how involved the public will be in holding agencies accountable for robust openness plans.

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