The Sunlight Foundation recently named Liz Barry and her group at the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) as OpenGov Champions. Sunlight highlights these champions for their work and ingenuity in furthering govt transparency.
Ms Barry and the PLOTS team is perhaps best known for using kites and helium balloons to map the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010, the only high resolution images out in the media at the onset of the catastrophe. PLOTS uses "mapping and other scientific DIY methods to empower local residents and activists to issue their own data sets to better engage with their local governments in environmental and other issues in their communities."
Be sure to check out their many maps available in the PLOTS open data archive. And for all of you DIY scientists, you can chip in to the PLOTS DIY spectrometry kit kickstarter campaign and help them build a spectrum-sharing wiki.
Building off of last week's post on the Obama Administration's new digital government strategy, I came across this analysis over at TechPresident: "White House Rolls Out New Plan for Digital Government".
Among the changes called for in the plan:
- Within six months, the Office of Management and Budget will release new government-wide standards for open data, content, and web application programming interfaces. Agencies will have another six months to make sure they are following those policies. They are also going to be asked to take two customer-facing online services and expose the information it delivers through APIs to "appropriate audiences," meaning some set of developers will be able to build applications around them without necessarily working in close concert with the agency providing the data.
- Agencies will be asked to publish ever more data through APIs and as structured data, which are the building blocks of modern web design and mobile-ready websites. The White House line on this is that it will also encourage outside developers to build new businesses on top of government data.
- The General Services Administration will establish a Digital Services Innovation Center to work with agencies to modernize how they interact with citizens on the web.
- The White House will begin releasing its own source code on GitHub and launch a "presidential innovation fellowship" program to bring developers from the private sector into government for six-to-12-month projects.
- The federal government will work to develop "MyGov," a prototype central hub for citizens to access all the services and information they're looking for from government online.
- Through programs like one intended to encourage small businesses to compete for government business, the White House will work to change IT procurement practices and cut down on the number of high-dollar, low-output contracts. Other procurement-related initiatives include a government-wide vehicle for mobile device and wireless service contracting and government-wide guidance on bring-your-own-device policies.
- Data.gov, the federal repository for government data available online, will transition away from being a hub for data files and towards a central clearing house of government APIs that developers can incorporate into web applications.
While we're excited that the White House is continuing to espouse the importance of open government principles, our concern is that the plan (PDF) does not address digital preservation or authenticity, two critical issues for librarians in guaranteeing long-term FREE access to government information -- and issues we addressed in a 2010 letter to then deputy CTO for Open Government Beth Noveck.
It's all well and good to talk about IT reform, shared IT infrastructure and services, APIs etc, but who's going to manage all of this cool digital stuff for the long-term? And where will the funding (or RE-funding) come from to keep Data.gov afloat in order to manage all of the APIs? In an era where GPO's FY2012 request for $6million to fund continuing development of their Federal Digital System (FDsys) is met with $0 funding by the House and only slightly less catastrophic $500,000 by the Senate, talk is all well and good. Digital infrastructure and services, and more importantly the staff to manage them, costs $$ -- arguably much more $$ than distribution and preservation of paper collections in the FDLP. We need a government and politicians who won't short-change open government and transparency. We need them and the public to realize that "online" does NOT equal "free beer" but "free kittens!"
A new paper distinguishes between open government data that makes the government as a whole more transparent and politically neutral public data that have nothing to do with public accountability.
- Yu, Harlan and Robinson, David G., The New Ambiguity of 'Open Government' (February 28, 2012). Princeton CITP / Yale ISP Working Paper. Available at SSRN.
Today a regime can call itself "open" if it builds the right kind of web site -- even if it does not become more accountable or transparent. This shift in vocabulary makes it harder for policymakers and activists to articulate clear priorities and make cogent demands.
This essay proposes a more useful way for participants on all sides to frame the debate: We separate the politics of open government from the technologies of open data.
Open Government vs. Open Data, By Joseph Marks, NextGov
The United States has released a new action plan for open government that lists existing policies and plans and includes new initiatives:
- The Open Government Partnership National Action Plan For The United States Of America (September 20, 2011) [PDF, 10pp]
- White House releases open government action plan with new initiatives, by Joseph Marks, NextGov (09/20/2011)
The Plan was developed as part of the United States' participation in the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. The OGP is overseen by a steering committee of governments and civil society organizations.
Participating countries in the Open Government Partnership pledge to deliver country action plans that elaborate concrete commitments on open government. In each country, these commitments are developed through a multi-stakeholder process, with the active engagement of citizens and civil society.
The White House has released a new report, on open government:
- The Obama Administration’s Commitment to Open Government: A Status Report [the report, pdf, 34pp].
- A Status Report on the Administration’s Commitment to Open Government [announcement] by Steven Croley, The White House Open Gov Blog (September 16, 2011).
In an analysis, Steven Aftergood says the report, "downplays or overlooks many of the Administration's principal achievements in reducing inappropriate secrecy. At the same time, it fails to acknowledge the major defects of the openness program to date. And so it presents a muddled picture of the state of open government, while providing a poor guide to future policy.
- An Ambivalent White House Report on Open Government, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (September 19, 2011).
New Performance.gov website faces performance problems of its own, By Joseph Marks, NextGov (08/26/2011).
A last-minute deal between the Obama administration and House Republicans to avert a government shutdown in April cut fiscal 2011 funding for online open government initiatives by more than three quarters to just $8 million.
[An] OMB official said Thursday the administration does not consider the current version of Performance.gov to be compliant with the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act...
...The current version of Performance.gov does have a search bar, but it is only minimally functional. Searches for the names of federal agencies, such as "defense," "agriculture" and "transportation" for instance did not turn up any results.
When the funding deal with lawmakers was reached, then-federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra told Congress he would cut two planned open government initiatives and suspend planned improvements to others, including Performance.gov.
I'm in 2 minds about yesterday's announcement by Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. On the one hand, I'm heartened by the fact that he stood up for the importance of the e-government fund and sites like data.gov and USAspending.gov and understood the importance of "governmentwide collection and governmentwide disclosure." On the other hand, I really worry about commercialized aggregations of data replacing free govt aggregations (statistical abstract, etc.) if the "pretty part" is not fully funded. If "governmentwide collection and disclosure" is not fully funded, what non-govt entity/company will be able to do that? Remember, according to the Census 2012 budget request, base funding for the Statistical Abstract = 24 FTE staff and $2.9 million (p.79). Data collection, aggregation, analysis, access and preservation cost money and these things won't be done by the "invisible hand."
And with that cheery thought, I'd again exhort our readers to help save the Statistical Abstract!
Issa pledges to keep transparency sites online
Federal News Radio
April 13, 2011
Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Wednesday the $27 million cut to the E-Government Fund doesn't have to be the end of the sites such as Data.gov, USAspending.gov and many others.
"It was one of the things I begged my partners on the other side of the aisle to come back and say there is a price to pay to keep this up," Issa said during a panel discussion hosted by the Association of Government Accountants. "We will find a way, and this is a personal pledge, to make sure they are not shutdown. The specific funding goes away but reprogramming authority would still be available. Our view is on a case-by-case basis we will be able to keep them open."
Have we saved the data? Maybe, by Daniel Schuman, Sunlight Foundation, (April 5, 2011).
Online transparency programs will enjoy a reprieve from the chopping block if the short term budget resolution posted late last night by House Republicans were to become law. The latest proposal appears to continue funding the sites at the same level as last year instead of cutting them to virtually nothing as was originally proposed.... But we're not out the woods yet....
This short term continuing resolution would keep the government’s lights on through April 15 and fund the Department of Defense to the end of the year, but contains a number of provisions that many political leaders will be reluctant or unwilling to accept....
More on the proposed legislation:
G.O.P. Budget Proposal Cuts $5.8 Trillion in Spending, By CARL HULSE, New York Times (April 5, 2011).
Today, when there are active threats to open government and OMB is preparing to shut down several important open government web sites, it is a good day to remember why we have several of our most important open government laws.
The Nixon Presidential Library and Museum has opened a new Watergate exhibit. Jon Wiener, who teaches history at UC Irvine and is a contributing editor to The Nation, tells the story:
- At the new Watergate Gallery, the truth finally wins out, By Jon Wiener, Los Angeles Times Op-Ed, (April 5, 2011).
The Nixon Presidential Library and Museum's original exhibit about Watergate, designed in 1990 by Nixon loyalists before the National Archives took over operation of the library, explained Watergate as a third-rate burglary exploited by the president's enemies to reverse the results of the 1972 election. Now, with the long-awaited opening of the library's new Watergate exhibit, the public finally has a museum that tells the full story...
...Textbooks and journalists almost always conclude with Ford's pardon of Nixon. But the Nixon Library goes one big step further, closing with the legislation that resulted from Watergate: the broadening of the Freedom of Information Act to give individuals and journalists more tools to uncover government abuse of power; the Presidential Records Act, which forbids presidents from destroying their records; the creation of the Federal Election Commission to monitor campaign finance; and the Ethics in Government Act, which established the office of the special prosecutor. [emphasis added]
Landmark Public Online Information Act Jointly Reintroduced In House And Senate, by Daniel Schuman, Sunlight Foundation (April 4, 2011)
Today Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) reintroduced the landmark Public Online Information Act. If enacted, POIA would bring the government into the 21st century by requiring the government to embrace the presumption that government-held information, already required to be public, must be available online. Data should be free from the shadows of obscurity and brought into the sunlight of the Internet.