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US: Transparency Advocates Give Administration Mixed Marks
Source: fcw.com/articles/2013/03/10/open-gov-advocates.aspx
Source Date: Sunday, March 10, 2013
Country: United States
Created: Mar 11, 2013

President Barack Obama vowed four years ago to make his administration the most open in history. But despite thousands of hours invested in laying the foundation for transparency, a new study finds actual agency adoption of policies has been uneven and occasionally weak.

The Center for Effective Government’s March 10 report examines the Obama administration's progress on open government in three main areas: creating an environment supportive of transparency, improving the usability of government information, and reducing secrecy related to national security.

“Overall, we found that the administration has taken a lot of positive steps on the policy side to strengthen open government,” Gavin Baker, open government policy analyst at the Center for Effective Government, told FCW. “The weakness has been that those policies are inconsistent in how they’re trickling down to agencies, so over the next four years we’re hoping to see reinvigorated approach to implementation and getting these new policies into practice.”

The report found that generally, the administration did best in using technology to make information more available to the public and more user-friendly. Agencies used more social media, launched new websites, created mobile apps, and overhauled older online tools as part of their open gov efforts. The public was also able to glean more insight into federal spending thanks to USASpending.gov and the Recovery Act -- though that effort has had problems ensuring accurate data.

A few agencies were clear front-runners of these efforts while “others seemed less interested” in transparency initiatives, Baker said. “NASA is very interested in openness, and the CIA is not – that probably doesn’t come as a shock to anyone,” he said.

While many agencies produced weak or vague guidelines for open gov efforts, NASA went against the grain and produced a very strong policy, with detailed information and concrete points on how to meet objectives. “NASA did a really great job because they engaged the public and they were interested in hearing what people thought they should do,” Baker said.

The end result was a creative and ambitious strategy including more than 80 specific milestones, with varying deadlines for most project areas. The plan also featured innovative projects such as an online status dashboard, bolstering access to scientific data, and crowdsourcing greater public involvement in research.
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