Back in September, to coincide with the U.S. official entry into the international Open Government Partnership (OGP), the Obama Administration released two documents. One, the National Action Plan, was required for membership into the OGP. The other was a general update on the Administration’s Open Government Initiative, which, like the scientific integrity effort, started with great vigor and receded into the background.
Arguably, the above comparison is not quite apt. As I see it, the loss of steam for scientific integrity seems as much for lack of interest as for bureaucratic and policy challenges, and there have been few concrete items delivered. With open government, efforts are moving forward and spreading around the world, but new websites and reporting systems are, unfortunately, easy targets for budget cuts. Much like coasting on decades-old infrastructure investments like roads and bridges, we are likely to coast on the digital infrastructure built over the last few years to make the operations of government more accessible to the public.
But there is progress, and at least the intention of pushing forward with increasing open government at the federal level. The National Action Plan gives a good summary of actions to date in this area, and the second half gives hints at the various initiatives in place to improve government transparency and access to the public. Should you wish to dive into additional details, the Open Government Initiative update is where you should go. Of course, the success of these efforts come in the implementation, which is ongoing. Some of the programs of particular interest to readers would include:
- We The People (already in place)
- ExpertNet (where government could more easily access the expertise of individuals)
- Standards for access to digital data and research publications sponsored by federal funding (comment period open)
- Adjustments to federal website policy (currently the whole website strategy – how to manage domains and other website IT – is under review)
Regrettably, these issues are quite firmly ensconced in the drudge pile – work not deemed at particularly glamorous, or connected to prestige. Yet this seems like something an enterprising collection of folks in a Google Labs-like playpen could tackle. There are several dedicated folks committed to this, but you’ll hear little about them unless you look really hard. Yes, Data.gov has been very successful and widely emulated. But this can’t be the only flower out of the thousand being cast to bloom. We need more water, and we’ll probably have to come up with it ourselves.