Four differences between Twinkies and open-government plans

Patrice McDermott is director and Amy Bennett is program associate at OpenTheGovernment.org.

FCW and GovLoop posit that “the first drafts of agencies’ open-government plans are Twinkies. You can put them on the shelf and they will last forever, but no one’s going to eat them.” Agency plans that meet all the requirements of the Open Government Directive could never successfully be compared to a Twinkie.

Although OpenTheGovernment.org’s recent audit of the agency plans released April 7 found that no agency met all the requirements, all agencies made some progress toward meeting most of the requirements, some agencies developed plans that exceeded the requirements in several ways, and agencies are already working to strengthen their plans. The plans are not perfect, but they are a strong first step toward increasing transparency, participation and collaboration.


This article is part of the FCW Challenge, a joint project between FCW and GovLoop, a social network for government employees. This article, and a selection of the best comments, will be published in the June 14 print edition of Federal Computer Week. To learn more about the FCW Challenge, click here.


At the most basic level, the difference between Twinkies and open-government plans is that, although probably OK in moderation, Twinkies are not staples of a healthy diet. Increased transparency, participation and collaboration, on the other hand, are staples of a healthy democratic government. How else are these plans different from Twinkies?

Open-government plans are not easy to buy and forget.

To develop the plans, agencies had to think through their current work processes; plan how to embed transparency, participation and culture into them; and plan for structural changes to agency management to sustain these changes.

Open-government plans have nutritional value.

Researchers, advocates and others have been long been hampered by a lack of knowledge about what data the government holds. The Open Government Directive alleviates this problem to a great extent by requiring agencies to include in their open-government plans an inventory of their data, and it moves agencies to include information beyond datasets in meeting that requirement. The plans also give the public easy access to information about agencies' record-management policies and the process they use to respond to Freedom of Information Act and congressional requests for information.

Open-government plans are not filled with preservatives.

The Open Government Directive requires agencies to produce plans that include details of proposed actions with clear milestones. As those milestones are passed, plans will go stale. Agencies are required to update these plans at least every two years, although many agencies are planning on updating them more frequently — and some are already doing so.

Open-government plans don’t come in a sealed packet.

The Open Government Directive requires agencies to respond to public feedback on their plans on a regular basis. Accordingly, a great number of agencies describe their plans as living documents, and many are actively seeking public comment. The public is actually encouraged to take the plans apart and look at each ingredient before deciding if the plan is a good one or not. The last time either of us tried that with a Twinkie, she ended up being chased out of the store.


Other topics up for debate in the FCW Challenge:

Government social networks are Towers of Babel, doomed to topple.
Acquisition 2.0 will give ethics officers the heebie-jeebies.
A mandate for the cloud is wishing for pie in the sky.
The federal workplace will never change. Telework? Fuggedaboudit!
Cybersecurity: This is a job for McGruff the Crime Dog.

About the Authors

Amy Bennett is the program associate at OpenTheGovernment.org.

Patrice McDermott is the director at OpenTheGovernment.org.

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