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[liberationtech] One year of 'open government'

Yosem Companys ycompanys at
Thu Jan 21 16:49:39 PST 2010

Eye Opener: One year of 'open government'

[image: Eye Opener]

Happy Thursday! One year ago
good government groups and transparency advocates cheered as President Obama
issued his first executive orders mandating the government "adopt a
presumption in favor" of Freedom of Information Act requests and requiring
that agencies become more transparent.

"The government should not keep information confidential merely because
public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and
failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears,"
Obama wrote in his FOIA order.

The other order said the Obama administration "will work together to ensure
the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public
participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and
promote efficiency and effectiveness in government."

The jury's still out on whether the government has improved the FOIA process
(many would say no), but others agree the government has made big steps
regarding transparency and collaboration.

*Chris Quigley*, cofounder of the British e-democracy company
has spent much of the last year consulting federal agencies on their "open
government" or Gov 2.0 <> plans. (Gov 2.0 -- for
those of you not in the know -- is the emerging practice of local, state and
federal agencies using the latest web technologies for basic government
services and to interact with constituents. This is anything from a
lawmaker's YouTube page <>, the
mapping technology found at <>, federal
agencies using twitter or GSA's new open dialogue

Quigley produced a 13-minute video (see above) that features interviews with
several open government advocates and local and federal government officials
discussing the first full year of Obama's open government initiatives.

Quigley concludes that the biggest challenge facing agencies as they
implement Obama's orders is how to effectively turn potential citizen
feedback into meaningful, effective policy.

"That is an area where perhaps agencies are struggling," Quigley said in an
interview from London. "I think it’s a learning thing, the tools will get
better, federal agency civil servants will get better. I would say that
things are getting better, but with opening things up, you’ll get that
challenge of how you manage that."

*Jeffrey Levy*, an EPA web and social media manager, tells Quigley in the
video that, "People are concerned about too much participation," spawned by
Gov 2.0 efforts. Agencies seem especially worried about receiving thousands
of comments of feedback and not having th staff and resources to sort
through them.

"My usual response is, don’t be worried you’re going to get 2,000 comments.
Be worried you’re going to get zero.”

The Eye agrees with Quigley's conclusion that federal agencies are still
struggling to determine what, if any meaningful return to expect from the
online outreach performed in the last year. The government has certainly
taken big steps in the last year to expand its online footprint. But what is
the ultimate goal or what will agencies define as success? The comments
section awaits your thoughts.

• *More Obama Nominees Announced:* The president on Wednesday tapped *Katherine
G. Hammack* to serve as an assistant secretary of the Army; *Theodore
Sedgwick* to serve as ambassador to the Slovak Republic; *Dennis P. Walsh* to
serve as chairman of the Special Panel on Appeals; *Marsha J. Rabiteau* to
serve as a member of the board of directors of the State Justice Institute;
and *Earl F. Weener* to serve as a member of the National Transportation
Safety Board. Track all Obama nominees with The Post's Head

• *Cabinet and Staff News:* First Lady *Michelle Obama* visits the Commerce
Department on Tuesday -- her 15th visit to a federal agency. Defense
Secretary *Robert M. Gates* (now in
says al-Qaeda has used proxy terrorist
orchestrate attacks in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. AfPak Envoy *Richard
Holbrooke* says the Obama administration scuttling use of the term
the Pakistanis don't like it. Meanwhile, Mideast Envoy *George Mitchell* visits

• *Pressure is on for Obama to fill ‘food czar' job at USDA:* It's a job
with little glory but a lot of
keeping the meat, poultry, catfish and some eggs America eats safe by
overseeing 9,000 inspectors who visit 7,000 slaughter and processing plants

• *Latinos, youth say they're unfamiliar with the Census:* Most Americans
are aware that the Census helps determine congressional
and slightly more than two-thirds correctly stated that it is not used to
locate or identify illegal immigrants.

• *Pentagon defeats State in turf war round one:* The Defense Department
has won a major internal battle over control of foreign assistance
delaying the Obama administration's pledge to demilitarize foreign policy.

• *FBI agents seeking phone records used 'startling' methods:*The Justice
Department's inspector general described numerous lapses by agents seeking
material through more than 700 emergency
phone service providers between 2002 and 2006.

• *Obama targets tax delinquent contractors:* The plan to crack down on
federal contractors that fail to pay their taxes is part of continuing
efforts to save taxpayer
cutting wasteful government contracts.

• *At one-year mark, Obama shows progress on management pledges:* He ordered
administration officials to scour the budget for initiatives that weren't
achieving desired
and in May 2009, he proposed cuts to 121 programs -- many of them in the
Defense Department.

• *200,000 Haitian migrants could file for Temporary Protected Status:* The
designation is reserved for selected undocumented
countries disrupted by natural disasters, armed conflicts or other

• *U.S. officials admit to intelligence failures in connection with bomb
plot:* Adm. *Dennis C. Blair*, the director of national intelligence, told
Congress that senior national security officials were not consulted before
the FBI decided to press civilian
the suspect, alleged al Qaeda operative Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

• *U.S. moves to ban imports of invasive snakes:* Interior Secretary*Ken
Salazar* says the snakes escape or are released into the
where they threaten sensitive ecosystems like Florida's Everglades.

• *At SEC, the system can be deaf to whistleblowing:* The agency has no
system in place to guide how officials should handle tips and complaints
from outsiders<>,
making it difficult for investigators to take advantage of an invaluable
source of information.

• *Embattled TSA nominee Erroll Southers withdraws:* His withdrawal came
just weeks after revelations that he gave Congress misleading
several Republicans to suggest his nomination would not move forward without
a fight.
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