Open gov unleashed in a flurry of plans

President-elect Barack Obama's vision of a more open government in 2008 became a presidential directive in late 2009 and has now taken shape as a whole mess of plans. This open-government era, in which agencies overwhelm an unsuspecting public with new ideas wrapped in bureaucratic jargon, will take some getting used to.

All told, 29 agencies have published their plans for making their operations more transparent, creating opportunities for public engagement, and improving collaboration across departments and with stakeholders outside government. Last week, several agencies added their plans to the mix.

In the area of transparency, the Agriculture Department said it is developing a process for identifying and publishing existing datasets. USDA officials also envision creating an online calendar that will list the release dates for that data.

In a similar vein, the Interior Department plans to establish a formal workflow process that ensures that ideas and suggestions that come from public engagement initiatives actually reach the appropriate official.

And in the area of collaboration, the Veterans Affairs Department is instituting the VA Innovation Initiative, which will solicit ideas for improving VA services and operations from outside-the-box thinkers wherever they might be found — in the department, the private sector or academia.

Reaction to those plans was muted last week — not by a lack of interest but by the overwhelming volume of information. TechPresident blogger Nancy Scola notes that the plans come in various formats, some of which are easier to read than others. “It’s a bit of a deluge of information that is going to take some time and teamwork to sort through,” she writes.

However, an immediate cause for concern was the somewhat tentative nature of many of the provisions, which float ideas for open government rather than committing to them — what OMB Watch’s Gary Bass refers to as planning to plan.

Government watchdogs at OpenTheGovernment.org were generally impressed with the plans released last week, but the group’s final assessment is still weeks away. The organization, led by Patrice McDermott, is seeking recruits to analyze the plans in details to see how they stack up.

“This assessment is not intended to measure if an agency is in compliance with the [Open Government] Directive,” the organization's Web site states. Instead, “it is designed to allow people to quickly judge where an agency’s plan is lacking and where it excels.”

It should be noted that some agencies take some liberty with the concept of open government, such as the Transportation Department, which includes acquisition as part of its strategy. “The DOT currently engages with the public to gain expertise through contracts,” DOT's plan states. “To procure resources, we must follow the Federal Acquisition Regulation, and, in FAA’s case, the Acquisition Management System.”

Meanwhile, officials at the Treasury Department took a more reflective approach, citing the e-rulemaking and Regulations.gov initiatives launched during the Bush administration as part of its plan.

“The inconsistency in agency plans…can be maddening to those of us in the open-government community,” OMB Watch’s Bass said. However, he added, even at their worst, the open-government plans “represent solid progress toward meaningful government transparency, with many details still needed."

About the Author

John Monroe is Senior Events Editor for the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, where he is responsible for overseeing the development of content for print and online content, as well as events. John has more than 20 years of experience covering the information technology field. Most recently he served as Editor-in-Chief of Federal Computer Week. Previously, he served as editor of three sister publications: civic.com, which covered the state and local government IT market, Government Health IT, and Defense Systems.

The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.

Featured

  • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

    'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

    Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

  • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    White House taps old policies for new government makeover

    New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

  • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

    What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

    It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

  • USAF Gen. John Hyten

    General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

    U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

  • Image from Shutterstock.

    DLA goes virtual

    The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

  • Fed 100 logo

    The 2017 Federal 100

    The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group