Monday, May 24, 2010

We Took the FCW Challenge

Please note, this entry was written as part of the FCW Challenge, the post can also be read, and discussed, here.

FCW and GovLoop posit that “The first drafts of agencies’ open-government plans are Twinkies. You can put them on the shelf and they will last forever, but no one’s going to eat them.” Agency plans that meet all of the requirements of the open government directive could never successfully be compared to a Twinkie.

Although’s recent audit of the agency plans released on April 7 found that no agency met all of the requirements, all agencies made some progress toward meeting most of the requirements, some agencies developed plans that exceeded the requirements in several ways, and already agencies are working to strengthen their plans. The open government plans are not perfect, but they are a strong first step toward increasing transparency, participation, and collaboration.

At the most basic level, the difference between Twinkies and open government plans is that, although probably okay in moderation, Twinkies are not staples of a healthy diet. Increased transparency, participation and collaboration, on the other hand, are staples of a healthy democratic government. How else are these plans different from Twinkies?

Open government plans are not easy to buy and forget

To develop open government plans, agencies had to think through their current work processes, and plan how to embed transparency, participation and culture into them, and plan for structural changes to agency management to sustain these changes.

Open government plans have nutritional value

Researchers, advocates, and others have been long been hampered by a lack of knowledge about what data the government holds. The open government directive alleviates this problem to a great extent by requiring agencies to publish in their open government plans an inventory of their data, and moves agencies to include information beyond datasets in meeting this requirement. The open government plans also give the public easy access to information about the process agencies use to process Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Congressional requests for information, and their records management policies.

Open government plans are not filled with preservatives

The open government directive requires agencies to produce plans that include details of proposed actions with clear milestones. As those milestones are passed, plans will go stale. Agencies are required to update these plans at least every two years, although many agencies are planning on updating them more frequently – and some are already doing so.

Open government plans don’t come in a sealed packet

The Open Government Directive requires agencies to respond to public feedback on their open government plan on a regular basis. Accordingly, a great number of agencies describe their Open Government Plans as “living documents” and many are actively seeking public comment. The public is actually encouraged to take the plans apart and look at each ingredient before deciding if the plan is a good one or not; the last time either of us tried that with a Twinkie, she ended up being chased out of the store.

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