Proving value of open government falls to agencies

Public exposure has its pitfalls

Agency officials are faced with the burden of proving President Barack Obama’s Open Government Initiative is worth the effort, according to a panel of experts.

Federal employees, especially those in the acquisition workforce, have been wary of a new system of openness and collaboration to add to their already overly complex procurement system, said Mary Davie, assistant Federal Acquisition Service commissioner for the Office of Integrated Technology Service at the General Services Administration.

“The first reaction we got was ‘No way,’ ” she said.

It leaves in leaders’ hands the tough challenge of changing viewpoints from deeper in the agency. Those major advocates of the movement have to show the benefits of openness and reaching out to industry, said Dave McClure, GSA’s associate administrator of the Office of Citizen Services.

Open-government supporters however must wrestle with showing whether the initiative is a burden or a value, he said.

“We have to ask that question,” McClure said, hosting a panel discussion at the Interagency Resources Management Conference, with Davie and several others.

One objection that many employees may cite is the criticism that comes with transparency. As agencies’ information goes out, the public finds errors, and officials are forced to deal with those inaccuracies, said Karen Lee, lead analyst for open government for federal spending transparency at the Office of Management and Budget.

“We had millions of eyes on our data,” she said, referring to Recovery.gov. Recovery.gov is a database of spending data about how the government spent the stimulus money from the American Recovery And Reinvestment Act. People found problems but the government corrected it, making agencies more accountable to what they issue to the public.

Federal employees have also raised concerns about information security, the number of people it takes to open their agencies, and the best way to manage what goes out, Lee said.

But the value is there.

When the acquisition workforce interacts with industry experts, it may take more time at the beginning of the buying process. Officials work on planning and setting requirements, even sharing a clearer picture of what they are attempting to buy. Afterward, though, the contract is more likely to come out closest to what was originally desired, officials agreed.

Patrice McDermott, director of the OpenTheGovernment.org, a watchdog group, said the public would benefit from more data because it shows how policies were formed and decisions made.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 Public Works Agency Coral Springs, FL

@PWAPN - open government is essential in knowing how decisions are made at the Federal, State and Local levels. I think government will need to adopt methodologies similar to the private sector using check in/out functionalities in systems to post information which was approved by someone who is ultimately accountable.

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