THE BLOG
12/16/2010 11:40 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Tracking the Progress of the White House Open Government Directive

December 8 was the one year anniversary of the White House Open Government Directive, which which required federal agencies to take steps to achieve key milestones in transparency, participation, and collaboration.

It was clear back in September that in the United States, open government is still in its beta period. As 2011 rolls around, the White House has made a new, ambitious request for the American people: help them to design digital democracy,

In a post on the WhiteHouse.gov blog, Chopra and Shelley Metzenbaum, associate director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for Performance and Personnel Management, made a new proposal: help them with to design a 21st century platform for citizen consultation:

One vexing challenge to engaging Americans in governance has been finding new models and tools for the next generation of citizen consultation.  We want to take advantage of the latest technology to: 1) enable government officials to circulate notice of opportunities to participate in public consultations to members of the public with expertise on a topic; and 2) provide those citizen experts with a mechanism to provide useful, relevant, and manageable feedback to government officials.

That is why the White House Open Government Initiative and the General Services Administration, working closely with the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Performance and Personnel Management, are today launching a public consultation (through January 7, 2011) to obtain input on a design concept for a government-wide software tool and process to elicit expert public participation. In addition to making government more open and accountable to the public, this also advances the Administration’s objective of strengthening problem-solving networks to improve outcomes and reduce costs, one of three key performance management strategies laid out in the President’s FY2011 budget. To be clear, there is currently no specific funding identified for building this platform. Rather, we anticipate adapting already available tools and know-how to achieve the goal of getting better expertise faster and more openly.

For now, the project is called "ExpertNet" and is being hosted on a wiki. The White House has a set a January 7, 2011 deadline for providing feedback, including suggestions for a better name. Citizens can also write to expertnet@ostp.gov instead of using the wiki. There are four specific areas that the White House is hoping to hear feedback upon:
  • Any refinements or suggestions to improve the process as described;
  • Any issues (legal, policy, technical) raised by the features described;
  • Information about any tools that perform the process described;
  • Pointers to organizations (public or private) that have a similar platform or process in place.

As the new year beckons, there are more ways for the citizens of the United States of America to provide feedback to their federal government than perhaps there ever have been in its history. In 2011, the open question is whether "We the people" will use these new participatory platforms to help government work better.

The Sunlight Foundation, one of the nation's leading transparency advocates, released the following statement on the one year anniversary of the open government directive:

In its first year, the Open Government Directive made government transparency a priority and encouraged federal agencies to put important information online. While more government information is now available online, the Directive's limitations have also become clearer. Simply put, the president's commitment to transparency is not yet living up to its full potential. The Open Government Directive is a great starting point, but the hard work that is needed to create a truly open government is still ahead of us.

Agencies such as the Department of Labor, Health and Human Services and NASA have led the way in releasing data, and the working groups created among key staff have brought about real cultural change within agencies. But all of these initiatives need a steady hand and a clear commitment from the White House to mature into permanent, reliable, effective policies that result in meaningful data online.

More concentrated work is needed to move beyond the easy wins. The administration has to give stronger direction and urge the agencies to move forward if the promise of an open government is to be realized.

Sunlight's recommendations for a more open government are available online.

Federal News Radio hosted several shows examining the progress of the Open Government Directive. Patrice McDermott of OpenTheGovernment.org and David Stern of "America Speaks" went on talk talk about what more needs to be done in >open government transparency. Sunlight's policy director, John Wonderlich, talked about the successes and setbacks of the open government initiative.

This week, the first United States chief technology officer, Aneesh Chopra, made the case on Federal News Radio that open government is gaining its footing, citing the success of using the mandate as a "key pillar" in government work.

Last week, Chopra joined OMB chief information officer Vivek Kundra and Cass Sunstein, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, in a live web chat at WhiteHouse.gov. Video of the webcast is embedded below:

The @OpenGov Twitter account and White House solicited questions through an online form tool at WhiteHouse.gov and through the White House Facebook page. The chat itself was hosted using the White House Live Facebook app and streamed live online through WhiteHouse.gov/live and the White House iPhone app. President Obama's press conference on a tax deal with the GOP superseded the original chat on Tuesday, which the @WhiteHouseOSTP account confirmed.

An archived liveblog of that video chat is embedded below. John Wonderlich of the Sunlight Foundation liveblogged the White House open government chat.

For more context on White House open government innovation, review the following pieces: