OMB directed agencies back in December to submit plans by April 7th that reflect the input of both agency leaders and the general public. The plans “should explain in detail” how agencies will improve transparency, promote opportunities for the public to participate “throughout the decision-making process,” and offer “changes to internal management and administrative policies to improve collaboration.” Plans should describe the use of technology platforms, use of prizes and competitions, and offer “at least one specific, new transparency, participation, or collaboration initiative.”
A lot has been going on behind the scenes, both in government and in the non-profit world, to help create useful plans.
Internal Initiatives. In addition to the guidance, OMB has created an Open Government “dashboard” to track agency progress and provide links directly to each agency’s Open Government webpages that detail what individual agencies are doing. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services offers opportunities for the public to suggest ways it can be more open.
OMB is also sponsoring several cross-agency work groups. One group focuses on improving data quality, as required in the OMB’s December 2009 directive. The other working group serves as their agency’s representative on Open Government initiatives: “this group will serve several critical functions. These functions include (1) the development and sharing of best practices and innovative ideas to promote transparency, encourage participation, and foster collaboration and (2) coordinating efforts to implement existing mandates for Federal spending transparency.”
In addition, the General Services Administration provided an electronic dialogue tool to agencies so they could reach out to the public to get ideas for what they might include in their Open Government Plans. About two dozen agencies participated in a five-week on-line dialogue, receiving about 2,200 ideas and 3,400 comments on these ideas. The most popular idea was for NASA to hold a joint conference with other agencies on the use of space solar power. Another popular idea was to support the use of electronic textbooks in schools. (I’m not sure what either of these have to do with helping agencies develop their Open Gov plans, but that’s one of the beauties of asking for ideas!).
Interestingly, agencies are moving forward with their engagement efforts – even absent a plan! And these efforts embrace the range of innovative to traditional.
For example, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) teamed with State and other agencies to engage in an international dialogue on how the US government might better define its foreign aid efforts. That effort engaged more than 10,000 people in 155 countries. Over a 72 hour period, there were more than 15,000 visits and 9,000 postings. Topics included “empowering women and girls” (the most popular) as well as “how to inspire a new generation.”
While USAID’s “GlobalPulse 2010” effort seemed to be a cutting edge approach to engaging the public, the Office of Management and Budget seems to be avoiding any Open Gov technology in a high visibility effort it has underway to engage interested parties around a proposed policy letter to define what is “Inherently Governmental.” This draft policy has great potential to affect both private and public sector employees but OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) has chosen to use the traditional 30-day comment period, posted in the Federal Register. Its nod to technology is to allow emailed comments that will then be posted on a website (good luck reading them; the link doesn’t work):
“OFPP invites interested parties from both the public and private sectors to provide comments to be considered in the formulation of the final policy letter. Interested parties should submit comments in writing to the address below on or before June 1, 2010. ADDRESSES: Comments may be submitted by any of the following methods: E-mail: OFPPWorkReserved@omb.eop.gov. Facsimile: 202-395-5105. Mail: Office of Federal Procurement Policy, ATTN: Mathew Blum, New Executive Office Building, Room 9013, 724 17th Street, NW., Washington, DC 20503. Instructions: Please submit comments only and cite ``Proposed OFPP Policy Letter'' in all correspondence. All comments received will be posted, without change, to http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/procurement/workreserved/work_comments.html, without redaction, so commenters should not include information that they do not wish to be posted.”
It will certainly be interesting to see how Open Gov technologies are applied to the implementation of health care reform!
External Initiatives. Advocates for Open Government seem to want to find ways to help the government increase its ability to engage the public. After the OMB directive, a series of “help” sites emerged. Some are wikis that allow agencies to post best practices. Others provide in-person workshop opportunities to share ideas. Here are some I’m aware of:
Open Gov Directions: http://opengovernmentdirections.org/
USNow (actually a British effort): http://www.usnowfilm.com/
So let’s see what the countdown to the OMB deadline brings!