White House Releases Open Government Initiative

Almost a year in the making, an initiative seeking transparency from all government agencies requires agencies to identify and post online at least three high-value data sets within 45 days. Each agency is also mandated to develop and implement an open government plan that will be posted on an open government dashboard.

Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra and CIO Vivek Kundra Dec. 8 released the White House's Open Government Directive (PDF) for federal agencies, directing all agencies to make more data available to the public and develop their own open government Web presences.
The initiative also commits the White House to launching a dashboard on WhiteHouse.gov as a tool that will hold each federal agency accountable for fulfilling the initiative. Within 90 days, the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) will issue to all agencies guidelines for best using public data, and within 120 days each agency will create an open government plan based on President Obama's philosophy of openness, transparency and collaboration.
"The directive, sent to the head of every federal department and agency today, instructs the agencies to take specific actions to open their operations to the public. The three principles of transparency, participation and collaboration are at the heart of this directive," OMB Director Peter Orszag said on the White House blog Dec. 8.
Orszag added, "Transparency promotes accountability. Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise to government initiatives. Collaboration improves the effectiveness of government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the federal government, across levels of government and between the government and private institutions."
One of Obama's first official acts in office was to direct all federal agencies to "break down barriers to transparency, participation and collaboration between the federal government and the people it is to serve," Orszag wrote. Obama directed all agencies to make recommendations by May 21. The OGI issued Dec. 8 incorporates those recommendations.
"To the extent practicable and subject to valid restrictions, agencies should publish information online in an open format that can be retrieved, downloaded, indexed and searched by commonly used Web search applications," the initiative states. "An open format is one that is platform-independent, machine-readable and made available to the public without restrictions that would impede the reuse of that information."
The OGI also says, "Within 45 days, each agency shall identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets ... and register those data sets via Data.gov. These must be data sets not previously available online or in a downloadable format."
The initiative also directs federal agencies to "proactively use modern technology to disseminate useful information, rather than waiting for specific requests under FOIA [Freedom of Information Act]." It also directs all agencies to publish their annual FOIA reports in an open format and mandates that any "agency with a significant pending backlog of outstanding Freedom of Information requests shall take steps to reduce any such backlog by 10 percent each year."
"This initiative means people will have more information about their government in a timely, searchable format that can be accessed anywhere they have an Internet connection. This plan can bring more democracy to the democratic process and represents hope of a new era between the government and those it governs," Computer & Communications Industry Association President and CEO Ed Black said in a statement. "The old adage in Washington is information is power. This launch promises to deliver power to more people outside Washington, and we fully expect that this policy will be prospectively applied as advertised."