Scorecarding Agency Open Gov Plans

The Obama Administration announced today a scorecard of the quality of the plans submitted earlier this month by 29 major agencies.  Using a checklist of 30 criteria, the scorecards show all agencies rating either a “yellow” or a “green” on their scorecards. These plans are being referred to as “version 1.0.”

The three agencies with the best ratings were the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Transportation, and NASA.

In addition, the White House has created a “leading practices” webpage where agencies can showcase their best efforts in four areas:

  • Leadership, Governance, and Culture Change
  • Transparency
  • Participation and Collaboration
  • Flagship Initiative

The Open Government Working Group, comprised of executives from each of the major agencies, continues to meet regularly to share leading practices.

It’ll be interesting to see what the separate scoring of agency plans looks like when the advocacy groups announce their results in coming days!


Open Gov Plans Countdown

Next week, agency Open Government Plans are due to the Office of Management and Budget.

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:
     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,
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:


USNow (actually a British effort):

So let’s see what the countdown to the OMB deadline brings!

The Open Government Dialogue

With little fanfare, the While House announced that 29 agencies launched their Open Government weblinks on schedule (per an OMB directive), on Saturday, February 6th.   Virtually all of them also invited citizens to participate in a dialogue on how they could improve their approaches to transparency, participation, collaboration, and innovation.  These dialogues will be open until March 19.  Afterwards, the insights will be summarized and used by agencies to help craft their OMB-required Open Government Plans that are due on April 7th.

This simultaneous open dialogue by two dozen agencies is unheard of.  According to GSA’s Dave McClure, agencies have more than 500 moderators participating in the event.  There have been several bloggers commenting on the effort:

  • The Sunlight Foundation’s Jake Brewer advocates a “National Transparency Campaign” and offers five guiding principles (such as “act like a movement,” and “listen and be authentic”).
  • Mark Drapeau cited concerns that the initiative was a symptom of “check-box government” where the emphasis is on compliance with directives, not actual engaging, or a real strategy for doing so.
  • And Tim Bonnemann thoughtfully identifies “Ten Things to Monitor As Agencies Invite Input On Open Government Plans,” including expectation management, community ground rules, and active involvement by the agency in engaging in discussions.

Being a former GAO auditor, I wanted to see for myself.  So I visited each of the 29 weblinks today.  What did I find?

The award for the most ironic Open Government link was the one for the Office of Personnel Management.  Its site said, simply, the government s “Closed” in a big, red box.   Okay, so government isn’t so open after all . . .  it is a Snow Day in Washington, DC!

Overall, there have been very few comments posted.  The sites with the most postings — such as Commerce and Defense – had prominently posted a banner or header inviting visitors to “share your ideas.”  Those with few or no comments as of today – like Education and the US Agency for International Development —  had buried their invitation further down on their Open Government webpage.

The dialogue platform, IdeaScale, was made available to agencies for free by the General Services Administration.  It was also “pre-certified” to be Section 508 compliant, and compliant with other federal requirements, so most agencies chose to use the platform.  It allows visitors to agencies across the government to use a common platform and each agency offered largely the same comment topic categories (transparency, participation, etc.).  However, you can’t register once.  You have to re-register with each agency.

Some agencies have moderators with names (such as Commerce).  Most agencies’ moderators are anonymous.  But the visitors are largely not anonymous, since they have to register with a name.

Some interesting visits:

  • NASA’s site has a countdown clock until March 19th,  including minutes and seconds left.  Will there be liftoff?!
  • Social Security’s site offers a set of ground rules for participation that looks like the license for installing a software product: “I have read and agreed to these terms of participation.”  It looks ominous!
  • Labor has a nice, brief “standards of behavior” page before you go to the IdeaScale site.  NASA’s site has one too, but it seems like you have to scroll forever to find the button to go to the IdeaScale site.
  • Some agencies – like Defense and Labor – had a “Share Your Ideas” link to the IdeaScale site, but didn’t say what they wanted visitors to share thoughts on.  Others, like State, provided some brief narrative of what citizens were encouraged to help them think through.
  • USDA’s site seems different than the others. It offers the option for visitors to discuss ideas generated by the department, or to post and share your own ideas.  It provides a useful context for contributing and offers a tag cloud of most discussed topics.

The real challenge, though, will be getting participation.  Who are agencies’ target audiences that they want to participate (constructively)?  Will the teabaggers know that IRS is in Treasury?  Will the “Obama Birthers” know that immigration is in Homeland Security?  Will the marijuana legalizers know that the DEA and FBI are in Justice?  Only the UFO believers will be sure to go to the right place – NASA!

The Business of Government Magazine – The NEW Fall/Winter 2009 Edition

The Center is pleased to announce the publication of its Fall/Winter 2009 issue of The Business of Government magazine. This issue focuses on a range of public management issues facing us today. Whether it’s the federal government’s response to the recent financial crisis, the H1N1 flu, or its movement towards greater transparency and accountability, we’ve gathered thoughtful perspectives from some of the leading practitioners and academics in the field.

Conversations with Leaders — We feature conversations with dedicated public servant leaders, from a wide variety of disciplines, who share their extended reflections on the work they do and the service they perform. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) spoke with us about the organization he has led for over 25 years and life-saving work it champions. Admiral Thad Allen, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, tells us how he has successfully used social media tools such as his iCommandant blog and other Web 2.0 strategies to improve operations, collaborate, and connect effectively. Making connections has been central to Dr. Bob Childs’ efforts in building the Information Resources Management (IRM) College into what he calls a global hub for educating, informing, and connecting information age leaders.

Profiles in Leadership  — Over the last several months, we interviewed on The Business of Government Hour many government leaders who are changing the way government does business. Our profiles in leadership highlight government executives exploring such issues as the use of comparative effectiveness research in healthcare, DoD TRICARE’s emphasis on prevention and disease management, challenges leading a global supply chain, managing and reporting on the $700 billion Trouble Asset Recovery Program (TARP) and using Recovery Act funds to accelerate the largest environmental cleanup in the world.  Check out profiles of:

It is said that transparency promotes accountability. This theme has become a central focus of the current administration. Our Forum: Toward Greater Transparency and Accountability in Government explores the movement toward greater transparency and accountability in government. From a variety of perspectives, each article outlines how this movement will provide both opportunities and challenges to government executives.

And don’t miss this issue’s Viewpoints on security issues surrounding the recent presidential transition, leadership comparisons of the last three NASA Administrators, and ways to collaborate more effectively cross-boundaries using Web 2.0 technologies by authors Martha Kumar, Professor Harry Lambright, and John Kamensky, respectively.

With each edition, we try to fuse the practical with the reflective—bringing together insights from government executives leading major government programs and thought leaders studying ways to improve how government works. It’s about connecting research to practice. We do this in a variety of ways and this magazine plays a central role. Let us know what you think, contact me at  Look forward to hearing from you.