White House Outlines Plan for Open Data Progress

May 13, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

The White House released its U.S. Open Data Action Plan on Friday, one year after President Obama signed an executive order to make government data open and machine-readable.  The plan builds on the international Open Data Charter, signed in June 2013, which laid out a roadmap to releasing open data.

The action plan outlines more than 40 government data sets to be made public or expanded in 2014 and 2015, including a new Small Business Administration database, digitized Smithsonian American Art Museum Collection, Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster data and Federal Drug Agency adverse drug event data. The White House commits to “support innovators and improve open data based on feedback” in the plan.  Agencies will also ask for public feedback to determine which data sets to release first.

The Obama administration has launched a number of Open Data Initiatives over the last several years. “These efforts have helped unlock troves of valuable data — that taxpayers have already paid for — and are making these resources more open and accessible to innovators and the public,” Federal Chief Information Officer Steve VanRoekel and Chief Technology Officer Todd Park wrote in a blog post announcing the new plan.


White House Releases Ambitious Second National Action Plan on Open Government

December 13, 2013

By Elizabeth

Late last week, the White House released its second Open Government Partnership National Action Plan (NAP), setting forth 23 new or expanded commitments in open government for Administration to undertake in the remainder of President Obama’s term. The Open Government Partnership was established in July 2011 as a global effort to encourage transparent, effective, and accountable governance, with more than 60 member-nations today. The United States released its first Open Government National Action Plan in September 2011 and since that time, AALL has worked closely with a number of open government groups to evaluate its contents and implementation and to make recommendations for the second plan.

As we previously reported, the second NAP includes commitments to open data, increasing fiscal and corporate transparency, advancing citizen engagement, more effectively managing public resources, and modernizing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Other new and notable commitments include to “transform the security classification system” based on the principle that “classification must… be kept to the minimum required to meet national security needs….” To that end, the Administration will establish a new interagency Classification Review Committee as recommended by the Public Interest Declassification Board last year. On his Secrecy News blog, Steven Aftergood offers an analysis. New declassification tools, including new document analysis and monitoring systems, could help work through a massive backlog of requests. The inclusion of surveillance issues in the second NAP is also noteworthy in light of the Administration’s position on the Snowden leaks and NSA disclosure. In the plan, the White House pledges to “increase Transparency of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Activities” by releasing annual public reports on the government’s use of “certain national security authorities.” These reports will include the total number of orders issued during the prior twelve-month period and the number of targets affected by them. The Director of National Intelligence will also continue to review and, where appropriate, declassify information related to foreign intelligence surveillance programs, per the second NAP. Finally, the White House also pledges to consult with stakeholders and seek input from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to ensure an appropriate balance between the protection of privacy and national security interests.

While not revolutionary, the second National Action Plan is an important and ambitious commitment to transparent and accountable government. AALL applauds this next step and looks forward to working with the Administration and other open government advocates on the implementation of these ideals.

White House Commitments Would Expand Access to Information

November 5, 2013

By Elizabeth

During last week’s Open Government Partnership (OGP) meeting in London, the Obama administration released a preview of its U.S. Open Government National Action Plan 2.0 (NAP). While the second NAP will not be finalized until December 2013, six new commitments to further advance the goals of transparency and accountability in the federal government were announced. They include expanding open data, increasing fiscal and corporate transparency, advancing citizen engagement, more effectively managing public resources, and most significantly, modernizing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

In the White House’s own words, “the FOIA encourages accountability through transparency and represents a profound national commitment to open government principles. Improving FOIA administration is one of the most effective ways to make the U.S. Government more open and accountable.”  In its new commitment, the administration pledges to implement a consolidated online FOIA portal that allows the public to submit a request to any Federal agency from a single site, develop common FOIA regulations and practices across agencies, and create an interagency working group and advisory committee to improve FOIA processing. FOIA professionals and agency staff will also receive improved FOIA trainings.

The draft OGP plan also includes a commitment to re-launch Data.gov with an expanded index of all agency data sets and special campaigns to unlock agricultural, nutrition and disaster-related data. In an effort to make government data more accessible and useful, federal agencies will also be required to develop an inventory of their data and publish a list of datasets that are public or can be made public. Under the title “Managing Government Data as a Strategic Asset”, the plan pledges that agencies will also develop new mechanisms to solicit public feedback regarding open government data.

AALL applauds the administration for their continued commitment to transparency reforms and we look forward to the release of the second National Action Plan. Access to government information is crucial to a just, democratic society and informed citizenry. AALL will continue to work with the administration and other organizations to promote policies, regulations, and guidance which encourage openness, transparency, and public participation.

New White House Digital Government Strategy Offers Promise, Raises Concerns

June 4, 2012

On May 23, the White House launched its new Digital Government Strategy, an initiative aimed at improving the way government agencies utilize new tools and technologies to serve the public. The plan lays out clear-cut procedures for making public information open and machine readable within one year, allowing Americans to engage with their government more easily.

In a memorandum introducing the new strategy developed by the Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO), Steven VanRoekel, President Obama directs each major federal agency to make two of their key services available on mobile devices within the next 12 months and to make “applicable” government information open and machine-readable by default. The strategy intends to “ensure that agencies use emerging technologies to serve the public as effectively as possible” and will require agencies “to adopt new standards for making applicable Government information open and machine-readable by default.” The memo calls on agencies to publicly report on their progress.

Further, the strategy promises to “transform Data.gov into a data and API (application programming interfaces) catalog that in real time pulls directly from agency websites,” as summarized in a blog post by VanRoekel. An excerpt from the report explains:

Rather than thinking primarily about the final presentation—publishing web pages, mobile applications or brochures—an information-centric approach focuses on ensuring our data and content are accurate, available, and secure. We need to treat all content as data—turning any unstructured content into structured data—then ensure all structured data are associated with valid metadata. Providing this information through web APIs helps us architect for interoperability and openness, and makes data assets freely available for use within agencies, between agencies, in the private sector, or by citizens.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will formulate a government-wide policy pertaining to API and systems will be required to support access to high-value open data. The report also outlines plans to set up a Digital Services Innovation Center to be carried out by the General Services Administration through a centralized effort to help agencies build out shared solutions for a “citizen-centric” approach to the web.

The scope of this new digital government strategy is laudable. The White House has put forth an ambitious and progressive strategy that has the potential to improve government transparency and accessibility. However, there are several omissions from the report that are cause for concern. Though leaders in producing, disseminating and preserving electronic information, the Government Printing Office and the Library of Congress are never mentioned in the report, and the National Archives and Records Administration is mentioned only once. NARA is charged with working with the Federal CIO Council and National Institute of Standards and Technology to “develop guidelines for standardized implementation of digital privacy controls and educate agency privacy and legal officials on options for addressing digital privacy, records retention, and security issues.”

Most troubling, the report puts forth a strategy for access to “high-quality digital government data” but does not address the need to ensure that the information is trustworthy, accurate, preserved and permanently accessible to the public, with explicit procedures to do so.

In all, the Digital Government Strategy is an important commitment by the White House to greater government transparency and more accessible information. However, to adequately create a digital government, the White House must take into account issues of the lifecycle of electronic information before it can offer a truly comprehensive solution.

White House Makes Progress on Open Government

September 20, 2011

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.

White House Chat Today on Improving Federal Websites

July 12, 2011

Today at 4pm EDT, the White House will hold an online chat to solicit ideas from the public on how to improve federal websites. Speakers include White House Director of Digital Strategy, Macon Phillips; Federal Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra (who will soon be leaving the White House to take a joint fellowship at Harvard); and Director of the General Services Administration’s Center for Excellence in Digital Government, Sheila Campbell. This discussion is part of the President’s new Campaign to Cut Waste, which includes the goal of consolidating and eliminating unnecessary federal websites.

We encourage law librarians to participate in this online chat to ask questions and provide your perspectives on how the government can improve federal websites. You can participate by:

In addition, the White House has committed to posting a list of all “dot gov” domains and will invite comments on how to ensure the public has access to the government information they need. We will let you know when that list is published and will reach out to you for feedback.

President Obama Releases Important New Executive Order on Controlled Unclassified Information

November 8, 2010

On November 4, President Obama released a new Executive Order to establish a uniform framework for the use of Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) – a confusing system of control markings agencies have developed that includes hundreds of designations that do not formally classify information but keep it out of the hands of the public (such as “For Official Use Only” (FOUO), “Official Use Only” (OUO), and “Limited Official Use” (LOU)).

According to AALL’s Government Relations Policy, security classification should be construed to promote open government while acknowledging the need for Freedom of Information Act exemptions. In 2007 and 2008, AALL worked closely with OMB Watch to develop the Moving Toward a 21st Century Right-to-Know Agenda: Recommendations to President-elect Obama and Congress. This report included recommendations, incorporated into the new Executive Order, that the White House issue a directive to agencies to reduce the use of information control markings unless there is a statute, regulation or policy directive already protecting it.

The new Executive Order creates a uniform system for managing CUI, and establishes the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) as the Executive Agent to implement the order and ensure compliance.

The Executive Order requires that:

  • Within 180 days, each agency must review all markings used by the agency designation CUI and submit to NARA a catalogue of proposed categories and subcategories of CUI.
  • NARA shall approve all categories of CUI to be applied uniformly throughout the Executive Branch.
  • Within 1 year, NARA must establish a public CUI registry that includes all authorized CUI categories.
  • For the next five years, NARA must complete an annual report on the status of agency implementation of the order. After that, NARA must complete biannual reports.

The Executive Order also states that if there is doubt about whether to mark information as CUI, the agency shall err on the side of openness. AALL commends the Obama Administration for taking this significant step toward reforming policies governing control markings, thereby ensuring greater public access to Controlled Unclassified Information.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

Agencies Release Open Government Plans, Assessments Begin

April 12, 2010

Meeting a major milestone of the Open Government Directive (OGD), on April 7 all 29 agencies covered by the OGD, plus several agencies not covered by the Directive, released their Open Government Plans for public comment. The plans can be found on the agencies’ Open Government Web pages, which are linked to from the White House’s Open Government Dashboard.

In order to evaluate the plans, OpenTheGovernment.org is coordinating a review that will give each agency an overall score for how well it meets the criteria laid out in the OGD. Members of AALL’s Government Relations Committee are evaluating the Department of Justice’s Open Government Plan and the Association will be submitting an assessment on how well the DOJ plan meets the stated requirements.

In addition, OpenTheGovernment.org is asking individuals to provide feedback on any of the agency plans. We encourage you to take a few minutes to comment on the plan of any agency that may be of special interest to you. These comments are intended to highlight any part of the plan you think is impressive, and to make concrete suggestions on how the agency could improve its plan. This is a special opportunity to provide your thoughts on how well agencies’ proposals follow through on the OGD’s requirement to develop a roadmap to improve transparency, participation and collaboration.

AALL is carefully monitoring agencies’ progress to ensure that they meet the baseline requirements described in the OGD. We will keep you updated as the assessments are completed.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

President Obama Signs One-Year Extension of PATRIOT Act Provisions

March 8, 2010

Last December, Congress approved a 60-day extension of the expiring three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, including Section 215 (the “library provision”). While intended to give Congress more time to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills, the new February 28 deadline approached quickly without time for debate.

On February 24, the Senate voted by unanimous consent for an additional one-year extension of the three provisions, and the House quickly followed on February 25, approving the measure 315-97. On February 27, President Obama signed the one-year extension into law, putting off the possibility for meaningful reform for another year.

AALL strongly opposed the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001, as well as the reauthorization in 2005, because the bills lacked privacy safeguards and civil liberties protections. We were disappointed with the renewal of the three provisions last month because we believe there needs to be a higher standard for issuing Section 215 orders and National Security Letters (NSLs) to protect library users from intrusive government surveillance.

We had supported bills in the House, the USA Patriot Amendments Act of 2009 (H.R. 3845),  and Senate, the Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools In Counterterrorism Efforts (JUSTICE) Act of 2009 (S. 1686), which would have raised the standard for issuing Section 215 orders and NSLs to more adequately protect library users, and added reporting and oversight requirements to ensure greater accountability.

We also supported Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) reauthorization bill, the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2009 (S. 1692), as introduced. However, we were very disappointed with amendments approved by the committee when it favorably reported S. 1692 in October because they severely weakened the higher standard for library records that was in the original bill.

As the new February 28, 2011 sunset date approaches, AALL will continue to promote the need for increased protections for libraries. For more information, please read our Issue Brief, “2009-2010 Reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.”

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

Agencies Release Open Government Web pages to Meet Second Directive Deadline

February 23, 2010

Agencies passed another important milestone of the Open Government Directive (OGD) on February 6 with the release of their Open Government Web pages, located at http://www.[agency].gov/open. These Web pages will be an integral part of creating the culture of open government that is the driving force behind the Directive.

By visiting an agency’s Open Government Web page, members of the public can follow the agency’s progress on the Directive and provide specific ideas (through online public dialogue sites) about how the agency can promote openness. Agencies must consider these public comments when developing their Open Government Plans, which will describe how they will improve transparency and integrate public participation and collaboration into their activities. The Plans, which are the cornerstone of the OGD, must be posted on each agency’s Open Government Web page for public comment by April 7.

February 6 also marked the deadline for the new Open Government Dashboard, where the White House will track and assess agencies’ progress in meeting the OGD deadlines. AALL and other open government groups are working with the White House to develop metrics to measure how well agencies are meeting their goals. On February 18, we signed on to an email to Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, in response to “bonus criteria” he presented for scoring agency Open Government Plans. We had a number of suggestions for the basic content of agency Web sites, including that every agency should be required to have a comprehensive, well-maintained, and searchable archive of documents, including those that have been removed from the Web site. The email also suggested minimum criteria with which to judge agencies’ progress.

AALL has published a new Issue Brief that tracks and analyzes the progress agencies have made on the OGD so far. We will keep this Issue Brief updated as agencies continue meet the OGD’s ambitious goals.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

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