Transparency

Open Gov: Who's late out of the gate?

businesspeople running track

It has been more than six weeks since the deadline for agencies to submit their 2014 open government plans has come and gone. Yet half a dozen agencies -- including the Office of Management and Budget and the departments of State and Veterans Affairs -- have still not released their outlines.

Three smaller agencies -- the Agency for International Development, Council on Environmental Quality and Office of National Drug Control Policy -- also have yet to release their 2014 plans.

The Open Government Directive established by the White House in 2010 requires agencies to submit biannual open government plans to the White House. The 2014 deadline was June 1.

As of July 8, 2014, when the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington published a list of agencies that were in compliance, the Small Business Administration and the Health and Human Services Department had also failed to release their plans. HHS posted its on July 10, and SBA followed on July 15.

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The State Department said it too is close.

"The U.S. Department of State is committed to submitting an Open Government Plan which is thorough, informative, and complete," a State Department official told FCW. "We are currently working to ensure that this year's submission meets or exceeds all these expectations, and will have our formal submission ready to go in the near future."

OMB is a two-time offender, having failed to release any plan at all in 2012. OMB officials declined to comment for this story.

OMB indicated in May that it would file one this year, but that it would be late, according to Amy Bennett, assistant director at OpenTheGovernment.org. That notice came during the last in a series of three meetings put together by the White House that brought in open government groups such as CREW, the Sunlight Foundation and OpenTheGovernment.org. The first two meetings had representatives from various federal agencies, and the third brought in components from the Executive Office of the President to meet with the groups.

"This year there was a real effort to re-engage agencies and make sure civil society was a part of the creation process," Bennett said. "The White House made a commitment to improving agency implementation of the plans. Part of that was issuing new guidelines and reminding agencies that they need to pay attention to their stakeholders."

'The bare minimum'

So why should anyone care if an agency misses a deadline?

"Agency open government plans are one of the most visible examples of the White House's commitment to transparency," said Daniel Schuman, policy director at CREW. Failure to meet the deadline "suggests not all agencies are as dedicated" to the idea of transparency, he said, adding that the failures by some to meet the deadline might deserve additional White House attention.

We really can make some important progress if the agencies bring in people from the outside.

"But more importantly, while some agencies made a real effort to think creatively about addressing open government issues, too many are merely doing the bare minimum," Schuman said. "We will treat these plans as a good starting point, but we expect more from our government in terms of transparency and accountability."

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The Justice Department is one of the agencies that made a real effort, according to Bennett. While DOJ is often criticized by those calling for more transparency, Bennett said this year DOJ incorporated input from OpenTheGovernment.org into its plan.

Bennett and others from the group discussed their priorities with Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West, and were pleased to see many of their concerns addressed in the DOJ plan.

"It's going to be interesting over the next few years," Bennett said. "We really can make some important progress if the agencies bring in people from the outside."

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