Blog post

US Federal CTO Quits: R.I.P. for Open Government?

By Andrea Di Maio | January 30, 2012 | 2 Comments

web 2.0 in governmentopen government data

The last blow to the open government cause in the US federal government just came from the resignation of Aneesh Chopra as the US Government CTO and one of the driving forces behind the 2009 Open Government Directive. Last yeat his deputy, Beth Noveck left, followed a few months later by the US federal CIO Vivek Kundra. With Aneesh leaving, none of the minds behind the directive is left in office. Officially, this does not mean anything: Beth has been replaced by Chris Vein and Vivek by Steven VanRoekel, and there has been no word so far about winding down open government activities.

Open government supporters insist that the movement is alive and kicking, but it is fair to say that, if it is a revolution, it is going very slow and is testing the patience of those who are fighting with shrinking budgets and financial sustainability issues in government organizations around the world.

Taking a look at the open government plans published by US federal agencies, and the related dashboard, it is quite apparent that most plans have not been updated since their first version, and there is very little information about progress and what has been accomplished.

Of course there is still a lot enthusiasm elsewhere, and every week there are new jurisdictions joining the race to openness, but how long will that enthusiasm be maintained before open government delivers on its promise?

There is still a chance for open government to prove its value, before being marginalized, and it is to create a clear connection with problems that jurisdiction and agencies need to solve. This implies that open government must be redirected from simply increasing transparency to fighting crime and tax evasion, improving health and education, reducing the cost of government. And that open government experts do no longer limit themselves to enabling the wisdom of the crowd and the creativity of application developers, but take ownership of how open data can and will solve specific problems, and be accountable for those solutions.

But this is a completely different ball game, isn’t it?.

Comments are closed


  • Alex Howard says:

    The White House has certainly given you and others the opportunity to raise dire warnings by not announcing’s Chopra’s replacement on the day he resigned. It’s quite striking, really: every time a U.S. federal official resigns, you write an obituary for open government or, in the case of former deputy CTO Noveck, celebrate her departure, I’m not surprised, given that record, to read this post today.

    Regardless, it’s more accurate to call open government in the U.S. an evolution, not a revolution. That’s particularly true in the context of the prosecution of whistleblowers, continued secrecy and opacity around national security issues and the enormous infrastructure that has grown up in the past decade, as documented in Top Secret America.

    For my part, I’m going to wait and see who the White House nominates as a new federal CTO. (I don’t think they’ll leave the role unfilled, though of course if they did, that would in of itself validate other concerns related to the administration’s commitment.) Given the uncertainty around the election, I expect to see an internal candidate raised up, versus a private sector choice, perhaps from the ranks of current agency CTOs. We’ll see.

    Your points about connecting open government to more than transparency — which is an never ending demand — are well taken, particularly with respect to matching needs to demand for services in the context of budget austerity. That value proposition is the promise of next generation open data efforts. We’ll see how they bear out.

    You did make a mistake in your post, however: at least 2 minds behind the Open Government Directive remain in the White House: Cass Sunstein, the OIRA Administrator and the man in who sits in the Oval Office, President Barack Obama.

  • Thanks Alex. The event (Aneesh’ departure) is – in itself – irrelevant. It just gave me an opportunity to ask some valid questions about where open gov is going.
    My use of the term “revolution” was certainly not limited to the US: in fact it followed the link to one of your post where you gave a comprehensive view of what is going on well beyond DC. In the last few days the EU Commissioner has announced the open data policy and even in my country the government has announced open data (and cloud) actions. True openness and transparency are revolutionary (and more difficult than many think): we have just not yet seen the effects.
    As far as the minds behind, I think it is fair to admit they are somewhat more detached than those who left, and probably have a fair amount of higher priority tasks to deal with: in particular, I doubt President Obama’s re-election platform will be too much based on open gov (which is certainly an important component, but not something that will determine how American people vote).