Open Government Takes Flight

When I last wrote about the Open Government Initiative, the White House had just released their directive calling on all federal agencies to develop their own strategies to meet the objectives of "Transparency, Participation & Collaboration," laid out a year ago on President Obama's first day in office.  Well, last week, all the agencies unveiled their Open Government Webpages, replete with high-value data sets, and avenues for the public to communicate with their government.

Wondering how much direct, bilateral foreign aid we sent to Burundi in 2007?  I thought so.  So was I.  Now you can find out through USAID's open gov page. Here's the Justice Department's page, State's, DHS's, and so on. Pretty cool stuff, and an unambiguous step in the right direction. Here in America, openness is what we're all about.

The White House rates the efforts of each agency, though I smell a bit of grade inflation. The Project on Government Oversight put together a list of 13 best practices that each agency might want to consider as their continue to revise and edit their pages.

More broadly, as I've written before, this is a pretty big step for the government. Openness is not in the nature of bureaucracies, and it's taken a big push from the Obama folks to get these agencies moving. But there's a lot of data buried in our government that, if available to the public, could be put to untold good use. And for the state to incorporate the citizenry in the provision of useful public services-- well, that's a pretty fundamental re-drawing of the line between the government and the people.

Over in the UK, David Cameron's Conservative Party is pushing this bill even further, guaranteeing that if he becomes the next Prime Minister, his government will publish all government contracts online.  Radical indeed.

We'll be discussing these issues and others this Friday, February 19, here at NDN. Andrew McLaughlin, a former Google policy executive, is the Deputy Chief Technology Officer at the White House, where the effort toward open government has been led.  He'll be joined by James Crabtree, managing editor at Prospect Magazine in Britain, a trustee of, one of the world's leading civic website builders, and a leading commentator on the British government’s efforts at openness.

For more information about the event, go here, or just RSVP. If you can't make it to our offices, we'll be webcasting the event live, and we'll post video afterward on our YouTube page. So, really, you have no excuse not to hear what we talk about on Friday.