A call to action for making government open and transparent

There was some meat to this. Participating governments must exhibit a demonstrated commitment to open government in four areas:

1. Fiscal transparency. The timely publication of essential budget documents forms the basic building blocks of budget accountability and an open budget system.
2. Access to information. An access-to-information law that guarantees the public’s right to information and access to government data is essential.
3. Disclosures related to elected or senior public officials. Rules that require public disclosure of income and assets for elected and senior public officials are essential to anti-corruption and open, accountable government.
4. Citizen engagement. Open Government requires openness to citizen participation and engagement in policymaking and governance, including basic protections for civil liberties. 
These governments also must make concrete commitments that stretch their countries beyond current practice, and develop country action plans through a multi-stakeholder process, with the active engagement of citizens.
At the launch of the partnership, President Obama also released a National Action Plan, our government’s “country action plan.” It was created with input from federal agencies, civil-society organizations, and some members of the public. It dealt with three challenges: to increase public integrity, effectively manage public resources and improve public services. The coalition OpenTheGovernment.org has acted as the primary coordinator of civil society organizations (CSOs) with a stake in U.S. participation in the OGP since July 2011. Teams of volunteers from these CSOs were established around each of the government’s commitments in its Plan, and OpenTheGovernment.org collaborated with academics with open government expertise to develop an evaluation framework for assessing the implementation of the Plan.
A report of CSO team reviews has just been released that evaluates the government’s efforts to meet its own commitments, and also its movement toward the larger goals underlying each specific government commitment.
The larger goals to which the president committed are laudable, and will, if met, move us a long way toward a new transparency. They include: declassifying national security information, modernizing management of government records; strengthening and expanding whistleblower protections for government personnel; and continue to improve administration of the Freedom of Information Act.  But bold steps are necessary to fully meet these goals.
So, how is the U.S. doing? What did the report find? Overall, evaluators determined that government met the letter of its intent in 19 of 25 commitments evaluated. For the most part, these are commendable first steps toward resolving critical issues and meeting the larger goals previously noted. Regrettably, some commitments in the plan were mere repackaging of existing activities.
But there is a larger and more consequential point to be made. The greater goal of transforming government to be open and accountable has far to go, and this National Action Plan was only a first installment.
For the U.S., the OGP originated in the White House and reflects the president’s commitment to openness in government. And by issuing the National Action Plan, the U.S. has become a leader on these issues of transparency and accountability. Still, though, critical gaps remain -- most notably in the realm of what the government deems national security.
For the United States to sustain the global-initiative leadership it has to this point earned, it must be willing to think big, and rather than promising only baby steps, to commit to bold transformative strides. It will be the only way to achieve the president's desired legacy of being "the most transparent administration in history."

McDermott, is executive director of the coalition, OpenTheGovernment.org, and author of Who Needs to Know? The State of Public Access to Federal Government Information and numerous articles.  She is recipient of the James Madison Award from the American Library Association in recognition of her work to champion, protect, and promote public access to government information and the public’s right to know.

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