Agencies miss self-imposed transparency deadlines

Federal agencies met their self-imposed deadlines on transparency initiatives just over a third of the time , according to a new report.

Under the Open Government Directive, which President Barack Obama issued on Dec. 9, 2009, federal agencies wrote transparency plans and in many cases set themselves deadlines to meet benchmarks in the plans.

The Sunlight Foundation reviewed 184 of those deadlines set by the agencies and found that only 63 deadlines were met, or 34 percent.


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Agencies did not meet 79 of the deadlines, or 43 percent of the total. In the remaining 42 cases, 23 percent of the total, the deadlines were either partially met, late, or it was unclear, unknown or undetermined if the deadline had been met. 

For example, the Education Deadline set a timetable for publishing 15 of its datasets to Data.gov. None of the datasets were posted on schedule, resulting in 15 deadlines that were unmet.

“The results are decidedly mixed,” John Wonderlich, policy director for the Sunlight Foundation, wrote on the group’s blog on Dec. 7.

Even agencies that did meet their deadlines “often ... failed to live up to the standards that they set for themselves as a result of the Open Government Directive," Wonderlich wrote.

Some of the agencies, such as the Defense Department, avoided setting transparency deadlines at all for the most part, Wonderlich pointed out. He also scolded the Homeland Security Department for eliminating a deadline midstream, after it had become apparent that the deadline would not be met.

“Perhaps most egregiously, the Department of Homeland Security rescinded part of their plan to post a schedule for new data to be released, and released a new version of the plan scrubbed of that milestone,” Wonderlich wrote.

On a related issue, the White House is seeking public comment on its recently-released U.S. Open Government National Action Plan, which is part of a partnership effort with other nations. The plan outlines 26 initiatives.

“Given the focus of this initiative, we thought it would be most appropriate to invite you to provide input and ideas on best practices and metrics for public participation,” Aneesh Chopra, federal Chief Technology Officer, wrote in the White House blog on Dec. 6.

The deadline for comment is January 3.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

Reader comments

Fri, Dec 9, 2011

The Sunlight Foundation should realize a quickly drafted plan in response to a government directive is just that -- a plan. Many agencies added conditional tags -- like "pending availability of funds" -- to items that they hoped might be feasible. But, in the given economic climate, money is just not available to accomplish every goal. Which goals should take priority? The ones that help an agency achieve its mission of course. Sometime other plans have to be downsized to accommodate fiscal realities.

Fri, Dec 9, 2011

The Sunlight Foundation should stay out of the sunlight. This self-appointed government watchdog on transparency increases the cost of government by attempting to impose their will on government agencies without showing how their agenda provides any benefit to taxpayers except through superficial values such as openness and transparency.

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