On several occasions this blog has referred to the Obama Administration’s initiatives to promote open government (see, e.g., here, here, and here). Yesterday the White House released a Status Report on this topic (The Obama Administration’s Commitment to Open Government: A Status Report, accompanied by a post on the White House Open Government Blog).
According to this Report, “for more than two and a half years federal agencies have done much to make information about how government works more accessible to the public and, beyond that, to solicit citizens’ participation in government decision-making. Thus agencies have disclosed more information requested under the Freedom of Information Act. They have devised ambitious Open Government Plans designed to increase opportunities for public engagement. They have made voluminous information available on government websites. They have shined more light on federal spending. They have even undertaken to provide more disclosure of previously classified information and other types of information normally withheld from the public. Finally, agencies have also used technology in innovative ways that leverage government information to improve the lives of citizens, and have successfully encouraged those outside of government to do the same.” The Report also anticipates next steps towards strengthening open government.
This document is organized around the following headings:
1. Freedom of Information: The Report reiterates the Administration’s commitment to a reinvigorated freedom of information as summarized in President Obama’s January 2009 FOIA Memorandum: Presume openness; disclose affirmatively; and modernize. Furthermore, it includes data suggesting increased disclosure: Over the last fiscal year (i.e., from October 2009 through September 2010) agencies made full disclosures -i.e., un-redacted disclosure of all requested information- for nearly 56% of all FOIA requests where responsive records were processed. Taking partial and full disclosures together, agencies made disclosures in 93-94% of all processed FOIA requests over the same period of time. The Report also highlights improvements to the agencies’ FOIA infrastructure as well as proactive disclosure.
2. The Open Government Initiative: The Report refers to OMB’s Open Government Directive and provides an update on Agency Open Government Plans including examples of such agency activities.
3. Data.gov and Data-Driven Innovation: According to the Report, as agencies developed their Open Government Plans, they made large amounts of information available to the public, in part through a centralized government platform, Data.gov. This platform, “a warehouse of original government information,” now provides the public with access to hundreds of thousands of agency data sets. More specifically, by May 2010, one year after Data.gov’s creation, federal agencies had provided the public with access to over 272,000 data sets. By September 2011, the number of agency data sets newly available to the public grew to over 389,000. These data are accessible to anyone, policy advocates, academic researchers, data developers, and entrepreneurs. As a result, they have been used to create useful applications for ordinary citizens; examples of such applications are available in the Report.
4. Spending Transparency: The Report informs us that the Administration’s openness efforts have placed great emphasis on disclosure of federal spending decisions as well. It touches on a number of websites providing that transparency, and furthermore soliciting public participation to ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars.
5. Sensitive Government Information: The Report discusses Obama’s Executive Order 13526 that imposes limits on the classification of government documents, and initiated the declassification of voluminous government information that should no longer be kept from the public. The Report argues that this Executive Order has already begun to have an effect: executive branch agencies in fiscal year 2010 reduced their personnel authorized to classify documents by 7%, recording their lowest number to date. Agencies also employed a 10-years-or-fewer classification designation for 74% of all original classification decisions, which is the highest percentage of that short-term designation used to date. With respect to declassification, the executive branch reviewed 53.1 million pages of classified information, and declassified 29.1 million pages (55.4%).
Last, the Report talks about the initiatives to enhance transparency in the White House and the Administration’s engagement in promoting open government internationally.