One of the points I have been making to US federal clients when discussing their initiatives to comply with the Open Government Directive is that one thing is to meet the deadline of April 7th (by when all federal agencies are supposed to produce the first version of their open government plans), and another thing is to make those plans stick.
Making a new initiative sustainable over time when there is little or no budget available and when it competes with many other priorities is not easy. A post by Rob Pinkerton makes this even more evident by highlighting how the current open government initiatives are driven by an executive order, rather than by law.
Reporting about a Senate Government Affairs Sub Committee he testified at, Rob says
The most interesting and frictional piece of the hearing came from Senator Coburn who wanted to know when Vivek and Aneesh planned to comply with the Federal Funding and Transparency Act of 2006 (FFTA) authored by Coburn and then-Senator Obama. Coburn applauded the Administration’s open government efforts, but questioned why so many initiatives had been undertaken by executive order when the one transparency law that was a fully codified law on the books had been ignored […] if we want to progress through openness and technology, we should focus on the Law because agencies and citizens have to follow it. It’s a remarkably simple commentary but one that doesn’t seem to have much energy in the Open Government movement.
He makes a very interesting observation:
Most of the efforts have been about vision and possibility (marketing) or about data propagation (developer enablement). But I have not seen much in the way of true institutional incentive change – funding, organizational restructuring, program creation and requirements and economic incentives – the things that really do mean ‘change.’ Bills that become laws.
Congress is the most powerful branch of government in my opinion – but at least equally as powerful as the Executive branch- yet there is not the same level of energy coming from Capitol Hill equivalent to what is coming from the Administration. Which will make it hard for Open Government to progress at the rate we’d like to see it progress.
Rob hits the nail on the head. One cannot institutionalize change by executive orders. The Open Government DIrective served its purpose to kick-start efforts and to create the momentum for most if not all agencies to really care about transparency, participation and collaboration. However this is not enough to make this sustainable.
Open government efforts need to be either rooted into specific laws: there are a few – such as the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act mentioned above, the Freedom of Information Act, , the Paperwork Reduction Act – but more may be needed to make this successful overtime.
Alternatively, the only way is to make agencies link open government to their own priorities. In an earlier post, I invited federal agencies to be selfish and look at open government as a means to be more effective and efficient rather than as an end in itself.
It will be interesting to see if this happens after April 7th. So far, everything tastes of a compliance flavor