White House Makes Progress on Open Government

Last Friday, the White House released a Status Report on Open Government. The report highlights the many initiatives the Obama Administration has undertaken to increase government transparency since taking office two and a half years ago. For example:

  • Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): The President’s January 2009 Memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act and Attorney General Holder’s guidance, which stated that agencies should adopt a presumption of disclosure. These memos have resulted in more information being released to the public and the reduction of FOIA backlogs by 10%.
  • Open Government Directive: The Administration’s January 2009 Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government and the subsequent Open Government Directive, which resulted in the online Open Government Dialogue and the release of the first-ever Agency Open Government Plans.
  • Classification: The President’s December 2009 Executive Order 13526 on “Classified National Security Information,” which streamlined the classification process and created the National Declassification Center at the National Archives and Records Administration, and his November 2010 Executive Order 13556 on Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI), which established a program for managing all unclassified information.

There is, of course, much work to be done to increase government openness. As the report states, “Open government is a means, not an end.”

Recognizing the challenges ahead, the White House today released its Open Government National Action Plan, building on the Open Government Initiative. The Plan is part of the Open Government Partnership, a global initiative that supports transparent and accountable institutions around the world.

One important initiative outlined in the new Plan is to “Modernize Management of Government Records.” Acknowledging the current challenges associated with the management of digital records, the White House has committed to:

Reform Records Management Policies and Practices Across the Executive Branch. We will launch an initiative that will recommend reforms and require reporting on current policies and practices. The initiative will consider changes to existing laws and ask how technology can be leveraged to improve records management while making it cost-effective. The initiative will seek a reformed, digital-era, governmentwide records management framework that promotes accountability and performance.

The White House will also continue to work to improve the administration of FOIA; support the declassification of the backlog of 385 million pages for public release by December 2013; work to ensure agencies implement their Open Government Plans; strengthen whistleblower protections for federal government employees; improve public participation on Regulations.gov; and involve the public in developing new policies to reform federal websites.

We commend the Administration for its commitment to open government and its continued work to ensure greater government transparency, public participation, and collaboration.

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