Open government policy calls for more data, Web sites

The Open Government Directive that the Obama administration released today lays out several deadlines for agencies, all centered on making government data easy to access and use.

Within 45 days, agencies must make a minimum of three high-value data sets available to the public, federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra said today during a Web chat announcing the new directive.

Read the plan here.

It is up to agencies to decide what is considered a high-value data set, Kundra said. Data related to health care, education and energy are the kinds of information officials expect agencies to share with the public, he added.

Kundra wants agencies to release data that can “fundamentally change the way government operates, or moves the government to an environment where making this data available publicly is going to improve the operations of government."

Administration officials drafted the new directive in a way that lets agencies implement broad open government objectives in whatever way seems best, Kundra said.

The goal of the directive is to change “the default setting of the public sector from that of being secretive, opaque and closed to one that is open, transparent and participatory,” he said.

“While the plan is promising, however, there are still a lot of open questions and details to be worked out,” said Morgan Reed, executive director of the Association for Competitive Technology.

“The open formats requirement is one area of the plan that leaves a lot of open questions,” Reed said. “Everyone agrees that the government should make information available in open formats whenever possible, but agencies should also have the flexibility to produce that information in multiple formats—open and proprietary—in order to meet the needs of all Americans, especially the accessibility community. The administration should also focus more attention on ensuring data is produced in “machine parse-able” formats that will make that data more valuable to the community."

Under the directive, in 60 days Kundra and federal Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra will launch a dashboard designed to hold agencies accountable for meeting milestones under the directive.

Additionally, each agency must launch an open government Web site that engages the public on how federal agencies can advance a more open agenda. The Web sites must also show the status of each agency’s efforts in adhering to the directive.

Finally, “within 120 days, each agency will create an open government plan to ensure that we can hardwire a culture of accountability, transparency and cooperation,” Kundra said.

Individual federal workers must participate in the process of making government more open for the goals of the directive to be achieved, Chopra said. Federal employees should ask themselves a question, he suggested.

“What set of projects am I working on that would benefit from having the American people support or engage?” Chopra said.

Steps outlined in the directive have already begun in the federal government, according to Teresa Carlson, vice president of Microsoft Federal.

“The progress made to date on refining and improving the quality of sites like provide proof points that government officials are genuinely improving citizens’ experiences with their government’s information,” Carlson said. “As agencies examine the role of technology in realizing the vision, they will want to keep in mind the results they’re aiming for, and then find the best solutions to fit those needs.”

The directive comes largely from the Open Government Initiative coordinated by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during the summer, in which the administration asked the public for specific policy recommendations, according to the White House. Thousands of people participated in the online forums and offered ideas on how to make government more transparent, accountable and participatory.

The directive also requires that annual Freedom of Information Act reports be published online in machine-readable formats, and demanding milestones for improving data quality and records management. Agencies with a significant pending backlog of outstanding FOIA requests must take steps to reduce it by 10 percent a year, according to the directive.

In addition to the directive, the administration released the Open Government Progress Report which is an analysis of the steps already taken to increase transparency.

In the future, Kundra, Chopra and OMB officials will review government-wide information policies, such as the Paperwork Reduction Act and the federal cookies policy that may need updating or clarifying to allow agencies to utilize new technologies that promote open government fully, according to White House officials.