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Open Government Plans Revealed

| Apr 7, 2010 | Opinion

Yesterday federal departments and agencies released their open government plans called for under President Obama’s Open Government Directive. These plans vary in length, detail, and innovativeness, but across the range of agencies they certainly reveal some new developments worth following.

For example, the plan issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) characterized its regulatory review dashboard, available at RegInfo.gov, as OMB’s “flagship initiative.” According to the plan, the public can expect to see, beginning as early as this month, enhancements made to the dashboard’s “search capability, site navigation, and graphics.”

In addition, OMB’s plan reveals the administration’s intention to solicit “public suggestions for improvements in regulations, designed to promote economic growth, innovation, and competitiveness. OMB will be focusing especially on ideas about new regulations that might promote these goals and about possible changes in existing regulations.” This idea sounds like the Bush-II OMB’s general call for suggestions on regulations.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that its flagship open government initiative will consist of a “FOIA dashboard” – a website that will provide “cross-government data about agency performance … in an easy-to-understand, interactive format.” The FOIA dashboard will provide information on the rates at which agencies grant FOIA requests and the extent of backlogs in processing FOIA requests at agencies.  DOJ expects to have the dashboard up and running, at least with some initial limited data, by the end of the year.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) open government plan poses a crucial question for all agencies to consider: How should agencies measure the success of their open government plans? The EPA devotes one of its report’s fifty-three pages to answering this question, stating that there will be “a progression over time in how we measure the success of open government at EPA.” Initial metrics will focus on activities, such as the number of datasets released to the public or the number of electronic town hall meetings held. Eventually, the agency hopes to measure more than just activities, specifically to assess the impact of these activities on larger outcomes of interest. According to the EPA:

This points to the ultimate measure of success of open government at EPA: We want to ensure that our stakeholders are informed about information we have on environmental protection, and we want to ensure that their voice is heard as we move forward in implementing our mission “to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment – air, water, and land-upon which life depends.

The EPA states that it wants to “look to the public to help us define the relevant measures.” The role open government plays in affecting the ultimate quality of policy decision making, as well as in providing additional procedural justice in the regulatory state, needs much further evaluation by the general public, agencies, and the research community. And so too with the open government planning process itself.

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