When President Barack Obama first came into office in 2009, he promised to make the government more open and accountable. On Friday, the White House laid out a detailed plan for how it was going to make that happen during the remainder of Obama's time in office.
The White House Office of Science & Technology Policy issued the second U.S. Open Government National Action Plan, which introduced 23 new or expanded commitments to open government.
"We are impressed by the scope and detail of the plan, as well as the administration's commitment to continue to engage and refine those commitments for which detailed goals are not yet available," said Sean Moulton, director of Open Government Policy at the Center for Effective Government, in a statement. "This broad and ambitious plan tackles important open government issues that we have long been advocating, including: 1) strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 2) improving information about government spending, and 3) continuing to open government data to the public."
Moulton added that properly implementing the initiatives introduced in the new plan could make openness work for the public and alter how the government does its job.
The document is a continuation of the first National Action Plan, which the White House released in September 2011. The first plan introduced a set of 26 commitments "that have increased public integrity, enhanced public access to information, improved management of public resources, and given the public a more active voice in the U.S. Government's policymaking process," the second plan's introduction states.
Among the successes of the first plan was the launch of "We the People" Petition Platform," in which 270,000 petitions were generated by more than 10 million users over two years.
The new NAP introduced 10 initiatives to increase public integrity:
1.Improve Public Participation in Government - This includes expanding "We the People" and making the platform easier for people to use. Also, the administration will publish best practices and metrics to assess public participation in government.
2.Modernize Management of Government Records - National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will work with other agencies to come up with a system to automate the electronic management of email records. NARA will also work to meet the Presidential Directive to manage temporary and permanent email records via an accessible electronic format before 2017.
3.Modernize the Freedom of Information Act - The administration will introduce a consolidated online FOIA request portal so that citizens can file a request with any agency from a single website. The government will also establish common FOIA regulations and practices for all agencies and improve the FOIA processes within individual agencies. A new FOIA Modernization Advisory Committee will solicit input from the public and make recommendations for improving FOIA administration. In addition, e-learning training resources will be made available to improve the training of FOIA professionals and other federal employees in the FOIA process.
4.Transform the Security Classification System - A new interagency Security Classification Reform Committee will review recommendations made in November 2012 by the Public Interest Declassification Board to reduce overclassification. The committee will also work with the departments of State, Defense and Energy and the Director of National Intelligence to review and declassify historical data on nuclear programs and activities.
The CIA and NARA will work together to launch new tools to make unstructured data searchable and automate the initial stage in analyzing documents.
NARA's National Declassification Center will establish a system that automatically notifies appropriate agency representatives when classified materials are up for review.
5.Implement the Controlled Unclassified Information Program - President Obama directed NARA to put together a program that will standardize how controlled unclassified information (CUI) is processed. "Over the next year, NARA will issue implementation guidance, with phased implementation schedules, and an enhanced CUI Registry that designates what information falls under the program," the plan states.
6.Increase Transparency of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Activities - The administration will release annual public reports concerning its use of national security authorities; review and declassify information about foreign intelligence surveillance programs; and seek input from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to ensure privacy and civil liberties are being protected while safeguarding national security.
7.Make Privacy Compliance Information More Accessible - Agencies will improve citizens' access to publicly-available privacy compliance reports and privacy policies.
8.Support and Improve Agency Implementation of Open Government Plans - Working with an interagency open government group, the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy will put together guidelines so agencies can update their own open government plans.
9.Strengthen and Expand Whistleblower Protections for Government Personnel - Covered agencies are required to participate in a whistleblower certification program. Also, the administration is also advocating to Congress to strengthen whistleblower protections for federal workers and contractors.
10.Increase Transparency of Legal Entities Formed in the United States - The White House will continue to advocate for legislation that requires the disclosure of meaningful information from businesses, such as who owns them and how are they financed, at the time of their formation.
The new plan also outlines how greater transparency will help the government manage resources more effectively and improve public services.
(By Michael O'Connell)