By Elizabeth Holland
A collection of civil society groups, convened by OpentheGovernment.org and including AALL, has released the second of three progress reports on the U.S. government’s 2014-2015 National Action Plan (NAP) as part of the international Open Government Partnership (OGP). As you recall, the White House set forth 23 new or expanded commitments in open government in its second NAP, released in December 2013. This one-year progress report, which comes at the mid-point of the current NAP, finds that the U.S. government remains on track to meet the majority of its commitments. The progress report assesses commitments in three areas: commitments where there is substantial progress; commitments where there has been some progress, but concerns remain; and commitments where there has been no progress. Most commitments fall into the middle category. It appears, the report concludes, that more progress has been made on those commitments which are being implemented with the active engagement of civil society than on those where implementation lacked civil society’s regular and collaborative engagement.
Commitment areas of interest to AALL members include improving the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); agency open government plans; modernizing records management; reforming government websites; and national security classification. Progress in each of these areas has been mixed. For instance, while both the Office of Information Policy (OIP) and Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) have taken steps to collaborate with civil society on FOIA commitments like consolidated online FOIA services and the creation of a FOIA Modernization Committee, progress has stalled on improving FOIA training and developing a common regulation. With regards to open government plans, we were pleased to see that the majority of agencies met the June 1 deadline to update their plans and more than a dozen agencies that were not specifically required to develop plans continue to participate in the initiative. However, several large and/or important agencies failed to publish updated plans, including the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which has yet to publish an updated plan since its first version was issued in 2010. On classification issues, civil society groups met with =the Classification Reform Committee, chaired by National Security Council staff, and shared their recommendations in a follow-up letter, but have yet to receive a response. The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) held a public meeting on the declassification of Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) on nuclear activities, though no progress on FRDs has been otherwise achieved.
As the report concludes, we “are hopeful that the US government’s engagement with civil society will continue to increase in both frequency and depth so the US may take full advantage of the Open Government Partnership’s opportunities.”