Open Government Plans Need Improvement - InformationWeek

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4/27/2010
02:09 PM
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Open Government Plans Need Improvement

Only three federal agencies received excellent marks on compliance with White House open government requirements.

The White House has completed a preliminary first assessment of federal agencies compliance with the requirements and spirit of the Obama administration's new open government requirements, finding that while agencies are "off to a good start," there is plenty of room for improvement.

In a blog post, federal CIO Vivek Kundra and federal CTO Aneesh Chopra note that although all cabinet agencies and numerous other agencies -- even some not specifically bound by the directive -- have submitted plans, only three agencies "won a green flag for across-the-board excellence." Even the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy and Office of Management and Budget need to do more work to meet the directive's requirements, Kundra and Chopra admitted.

Kundra and Chopra highlighted the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Transportation, and NASA as leading the pack in terms of the maturity and completeness of their open government plans. The Department of Transportation, for example, has a timeline of its plan available on its open government site, and the Department of Health and Human Services launched a number of efforts, including a performance dashboard for the Food and Drug Administration and an application development challenge for citizens to build visualizations of HHS data.

The review relied on a self-reported checklist of 30 criteria drawn from the directive itself, including questions about whether the plan detailed how the agency is planning to comply with requirements to participate in efforts like Data.gov and the IT Dashboard, addressed issues related to the Freedom of Information Act, and explained how the agency intended to enhance opportunities for public participation and collaboration.

Broadly, the results of the review are available on the White House's Open Government Dashboard, but the dashboard isn't very granular. Instead, it shows whether agencies meet, have made progress toward, or fail to meet White House expectations as to their open government plans. No agency fails to meet expectations in any category, but a few -- including the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education, and the National Science Foundation, among others -- don't fully meet expectations in any but one of the categories. However, that might be deceiving: for example, the Department of State couldn't affirmatively answer eight of the White House's 30 questions.

A deeper look at the White House's analyses requires a visit to the agencies' open government Web pages themselves. Many of those evaluations aren't easy to find, like those of the Department of the Interior and the Office of Personnel Management. Others only evaluate their progress in meeting certain White House deadlines, rather than qualitatively evaluating the plans themselves.

Still others don't seem to match up directly with the White House's 30 questions. For example, NASA evaluates its progress on 20 objectives rather than answering the White House's questions, and the Department of Transportation evaluates its progress based on 34.

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