THE BLOG
06/08/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Let the Sun Shine In

Today marks another historic milestone in President Obama's campaign to change the way Washington works as Cabinet agencies and departments release their Open Government Plans - concrete steps to deliver a more transparent, participatory and collaborative government.

For too many years, Washington has resisted making government transparent and open to the American people, resulting in difficulties in finding information, taxpayer dollars disappearing without a trace, and lobbyists wielding undue influence. For Americans, business as usual in Washington has reinforced the belief that government benefits special interests and the well-connected at the expense of the public interest.

No more. Since coming to office, the President has launched a series of initiatives to open the government that led a coalition of good government groups to give the administration an A grade for transparency. We conducted an unprecedented dialogue last May through July involving thousands of Americans commenting on and shaping policy approaches that were incorporated in last December's Open Government Directive released by OMB Director Peter Orszag.

The directive demanded action measured in weeks, not years. Within 45 days, each cabinet agency published at least three "high value" data sets on Data.gov - including the USDA's nutritional data, Transportation's "Child Passenger Safety Ease of Use" ratings, and Energy's state-level energy use, production, price and utilization data.

Today we add to that body of accomplishments as the agencies issue Open Government Plans, developed in consultation with the public, to make operations and data more transparent, expand opportunities for participation and collaboration, and enable oversight by the American people. These steps will strengthen our democracy and promote accountability, efficiency and effectiveness across the government. Here are a few highlights:

  • Department of Health and Human Services' Community Health Data Initiative: This initiative will provide to the public, free of charge and of any intellectual property constraint, a large-scale Community Health Data Set harvested from across HHS. This data set includes a wealth of easily accessible, downloadable data on community health care costs, quality, access, and public health, including a major contribution of Medicare-related data from CMS. The initiative is simultaneously working with a growing array of technology companies, researchers, public health advocates, consumer advocates, employers, media, providers, and others to identify and deploy uses of the data that would most effectively raise awareness of community health performance and help facilitate and inform improvement efforts. Such applications and programs could include interactive health maps, competitions, social networking games that educate people about community health, and enhanced web search results for health searches. By leveraging the power of transparency, participation, and collaboration, the Community Health Data Initiative seeks to significantly improve the health of our communities. HHS Open Government Plan
  • Department of Energy's Open Energy Information Initiative: Open Energy Information (OpenEI.org) is a participatory web platform that opens energy data to the public. The data and tools housed on this free, editable, and evolving wiki-platform will spur the adoption of clean energy technologies across the country and around the world. The site currently houses more than 60 clean energy resources and data sets, including maps of worldwide solar and wind potential, information on climate zones, and best practices. People can upload additional data to the site and download the information in easy-to-use formats. Residents in the developing world can also take advantage of the tools on the site to accelerate their move toward clean energy deployment. Over time, the plan is to expand this portal to include on-line training and social networks to connect interested technologists. DOE's Open Government Plan
  • Department of Veterans Affairs Innovation Initiative: The VA Innovation Initiative (VAi2) will invite VA employees, private sector entrepreneurs, and academic leaders to contribute the best ideas for innovations to increase Veteran access to VA services, reduce or control costs of delivering those services, enhance the performance of VA operations, and improve the quality of service Veterans and their families receive. The VA Innovation Initiative will identify, prioritize, fund, test, and deploy the most promising solutions to the VA's most important challenges. VA's Open Government Plan
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development's Homelessness Prevention Resources Initiative: Many agencies and organizations struggle with the task of capturing information about the homeless. Even more difficult is the task of predicting when and where homelessness will strike. HUD believes that much can be done to avert homelessness before it happens by actively combining information from multiple Agencies and using it to identify communities that may be at a tipping point towards increased levels of homelessness. Aligning with HUD's strategic initiatives, the Department will take a proactive leadership role in the Administration's efforts to end homelessness. HUD will develop a set of tools and processes that can help predict communities that are at risk so that resources can be allocated to help avoid homelessness from occurring. The Department's effort is unique because it will seek to predict the future course of homelessness in a community, and allow HUD to proactively allocate the resources necessary to combat it. HUD's Open Government Plan

These are just a few examples--click here for links to others. And as important as this milestone is, it is only the latest step in a year of breakthroughs led by the President.

For example, the White House this year began publishing the names of those who visit the White House. Each month, tens of thousands of records of visitors are made available online. This gives the public an unprecedented look at whose voices are being heard in the policymaking process. And in that spirit, we also provided on-line access to White House staff financial reports and salaries, and a host of other White House information, much of which had never been instantly available by internet before.

To reform a system that too often resulted in unnecessary and costly classification of records, the President also issued an Executive Order that speeds declassification by balancing the priorities of national security with the public's right to know. The President furthermore reversed an executive order that previously limited access to presidential records. And he issued a memorandum to begin reform of the government's FOIA system, establishing a clear presumption of openness. The Attorney General affirmed this change when he issued new FOIA guidelines for all agencies throughout government. First-year Chief FOIA Officer Reports show progress on FOIA, though an additional year of data (and of hard work!) will be necessary to make a fuller judgment.

We have also adopted a policy of affirmatively disclosing vast amounts of government information. We launched Data.gov in May, 2009 with 47 data sets but ended the year with over 118,000 all freely available in machine-readable format. Mitigating the risk of fraud, waste, and abuse, the Administration is also tracking how the government uses the money with which the people have entrusted it with easy-to-understand websites like Recovery.gov, Data.gov, and the IT Dashboard. These websites allow American taxpayers to see precisely what entities receive federal money - and how and where the money is spent. They also tap into the creative spirit of the American entrepreneur by simplifying access to information that might lead to new industries that improve the lives of everyday Americans.

We are proud of our successes, but we of course recognize that much remains to be done, and we intend to redouble our efforts to make government as transparent, collaborative and participatory as possible. We invite you to be a part of that by visiting the agency websites at name of agency/open and providing your comments on version 1.0 of the plans. That will help us and the agencies make the plans even better.