The Obama Administration’s Open Government Directive (pdf) turned one on Wednesday, offering government transparency advocates an opportunity to reflect on its successes and challenges to date. The directive requires government agencies to improve the accessibility and quality of data while utilizing open data and social media to better interact with the public.
Given the lumbering pace of bureaucracy, this is no modest goal: agencies have faced numerous challenges implementing the changes, as they’ve required shifts in institutional mindsets, employee attitudes, staffing, and IT policies. At nextgov, Carolyn Lukensmeyer and Patrice McDermott detail some of the successful initiatives, which have included developing open API’s that allow developers to access, analyze and mash-up public data, and outreach efforts on Twitter and Facebook. Yet Lukensmeyer and McDermott note that the efforts have a long way to go, stating “...many people find it difficult to identify, find and use basic types of information about government activities and have their voices heard by officials before decisions are made. For example, information about whom public officials meet with or who wins government contracts, when available, is often hidden deep on agency websites or posted in unusable formats. People have yet to see real two-way conversation between government and citizens that enables the public to have genuine impact on policy in all phases of its development.”
John F. Moore at Government in the Lab is similarly measured in his response, offering a report card on the initiative. While Moore gives the government high marks in setting goals, he’s less bullish about implementation, including setting clear strategies and measurements of success, staff education, personnel communication and use of technology. Speaking to the institutional challenges the Open Government Directive presents, Moore notes that “many people are excited about open government but many people are also frustrated by lack of personal growth and advancement, progress and processes locked in red tape, and a feeling that they can do more for open government by working outside of government.”
At SFGate, Lois Kazakoff takes a broader view, stating that the government response to Wikileaks reveals the Administration’s fundamental ambivalence about transparency. Kazakoff writes, “While the world is raging over the secrets exposed by the WikiLeaks -- too much revealed, too little too late, an illegal act, a needed act -- there is agreement that the Obama administration has fallen short on its promise of transparency...A year after President Obama's election and the issuance of his Open Government Directive, there is progress on putting the public's business before the public, but the need for stronger direction from the White House.”
While the Administration’s commitment and effectiveness is debatable, what is evident is that government must enter the 21st Century and use the tools at hand to engage and even collaborate with its populace. This is a long and complicated process, and requires that the Administration move past stirring declarations and assert a leadership role.