Kicking off Transparency Camp 2011 with 3 words [#tcamp11]

Today in Washington, Transparency Camp is back in session. As with every unconference, each attendee introduced him or herself with three words that describes what they do, what they care about or what they work on. The frequency of those words is shown in the Transparency Camp 2011 wordle below.

Transparency Camp 2011 Wordle

Transparency Camp 2011 Wordle

You can follow the conversation on Twitter on the #tcamp11 hashtag:

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Some sessions will be livestreamed at Sessions will be updated on a new mobile website at Check back for a report from Transparency Camp 2011 tomorrow.

Can open government be embedded?

This morning, the White House posted President Obama’s long form birth certificate to the public. Now that the White House has released the president’s long form birth certificate to the media (and directly over Twitter to everyone) I hope that the country can move on to the much greater issues that confront the country and humanity as a whole.

Honestly, it was much cooler to watch Mr. Obama speak live using the White House iPhone application than to see the President of the United States take time to debunk the issue that has been settled for years. His remarks are embedded below:

It’s also worth noting the evolution of the White House’s new media strategy, where a government document was not only released directly to the American people as a PDF over social networks but was uploaded to Slideshare where it can be embedded on other webpages to be spread even further, as I have done below.

The White House is not alone in using SlideShare to create embeddable documents. The Congressional Budget OfficeDepartment of EnergyU.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. National Library of Medicine are sharing information there as well. The military has created channels there too, including the Department of Defense and the U.S. Navy.

To be clear, releasing documents online in of itself is not nor will ever be a full measure of government transparency. Open government is a mindset, not just a matter of adopting new tools. For open government to endure in an era of budget austerity, it will need to be baked in to how government operates, with a clear connection to how it helps deliver on the mission of agencies and officials.

That said, creating online channels with embeddable content is taking more than a few steps forward from paper memos dropped into file cabinets or proclamation read over the radio.

Here’s to moving forward to work on the stuff that matters.

White House Office of Management and Budget hosts forum on federal IT reform

Last December, the White House proposed sweeping IT reforms. Today in Washington, the nation’s top IT executives will discuss progress on those proposals and assess the challenges that lie ahead. The livestream is embedded below:

This morning, President Obama issued an executive order streamlining service delivery and improving customer service.

Government managers must learn from what is working in the private sector and apply these best practices to deliver services better, faster, and at lower cost. Such best practices include increasingly popular lower-cost, self-service options accessed by the Internet or mobile phone and improved processes that deliver services faster and more responsively, reducing the overall need for customer inquiries and complaints. The Federal Government has a responsibility to streamline and make more efficient its service delivery to better serve the public.”

The White House Office of Management and Budget’s Jeff Zients, the national chief performance officer, will talk about productivity and efficiency enabled by information technology. As the Washington Post reported, Zients will unveil a new customer service initiative this afternoon as well.

According to Politico’s Morning Tech, federal “CIO Vivek Kundra will offer an update on the administration’s IT plans; Deputy Energy Secy Daniel Poneman will focus his remarks on cloud use and adoption; Deputy USDA Secy Kathleen Merrigan will chat about data centers; VA’s Roger Baker will discuss the administration’s plans to eliminate or revise underperforming IT projects and DHS CIO Richard Spires will outline efforts to set up IT best practices.”

More to come as the event goes forward.

Editor’s Note: The White House livestream went down about 18 minutes in and then went on and off. Unfortunately, as this correspondent did not attend in person, other first accounts will have to capture much of what occurred.

Senator Carper fears e-gov budget cuts are “penny wise, pound foolish”

As Daniel Schuman wrote on the Sunlight Foundation’s blog today, Delaware Senator Tom Carper wrote yesterday to federal CIO Vivek Kundra about the effects of a 75% cut to e-government funding at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), including questions about how the Obama administration intends to go forward. For those that have not been tracking the issue closely, Congress and the President collectively cut OMB’s Electronic Government Fund from $34m in FY2010 to $8m in FY2011.

Schuman and the Sunlight Foundation originally discovered proposed deep cuts to e-government funding during the budget crisis weeks ago and have been reporting on every new wrinkle in the story.

In the last few weeks there’s been a whirlwind of news and speculation about what will happen to the federal government’s online transparency efforts. From the first rumble of budget trouble to a frantic search for information on when the sites would go dark, and an extended legislative give-and-take over funding levels, the storm has cleared enough to know what’s left standing.

The way forward for these online open government platforms, as Schuman notes, isn’t immediately clear. Now, Senator Carper (D-DE) has become more directly involved:

I remain concerned with how the new lower funding level for the E-Gov Fund might not only impede the progress made thus far to make government open and transparent, but also harm efforts to cut wasteful and duplicative spending in the federal government.

The future of these programs have already earned bipartisan support, with Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) making a personal pledge to use his reprogramming authority as Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to keep many sites alive. “We’ll find a way to keep OpenGov sites open, but need to make data actually accessible/usable,” tweeted Issa this week, linking to a story on NextGov on softening the budget blow to transparency websites.

Improved accountability, efficiency and civic utility from open government data, in other words, are issues that both sides of the aisle appear to support, although it remains unclear why, if that is so, the original budget was cut by 94%.

Senator Carper’s letter is embedded below.

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eG8 to consider the future of the Internet and connected society

Cheers to Nova Spivack for unveiling the e-G8 agenda and his thoughts on the upcoming e-G8 Forum in Paris, France.

UPDATE: I will be attending the eG8, assuming that a volcanic eruption in Iceland doesn’t bollux up my air travel. Fingers crossed, and analysis below.

As Spivack noted in his post, there had been very little press coverage of the event when it was annoucned. His thoughts on the future of the Internet, government and society are well worth reading, particularly with respect to the major issues of the day. I post an excerpt from his post below:

Social networks are the cultural nervous systems of our new 21st century civilization. The problem is, they are being created and governed by commercial interests, not by their constituents.

If commercial social networks truly do become the fabric of our new societies, what happens to our civilization? It becomes privatized and controlled by commercial interests, not elected governments. Is that a world you want to live in?

The Internet is a new global resource, which, like the oceans, the atmosphere and the rainforests, must be protected in order to be of greatest benefit. It is something which every human should be able to share in, equally, and in fact, equal access to the Internet may soon become necessary in order to participate equally in any society or government.

Head on over to read the whole thing. If you have thoughts on the forum or know who else is going, share it on Twitter at #eg8 or in the comments.

As I said, I’ll be going and plan to share as much of what I see and hear as is reasonably possible. There are many people on both sides of the Atlantic who are asking whether the eG8 will create solutions – or more cynicism.

The New York Times presented the eG8 as an event where the “chaos of the Internet will meet a French sense of order. The crux of the matter is that France has pursued legislation and policies that revoke online access to citizens who share intellectual property, in a so-called “three strikes law,” and pursue technical blocks rather than going through courts.

Within Europe, there are also issues that divide, with Mr. Sarkozy pursuing a more active digital agenda than leaders of many other countries. His program has included a new law allowing the authorities to suspend Internet access to Internet users who ignore repeated warnings to stop sharing unlicensed music, movies or other copyrighted works online. Another new law permits the government to block access to Web sites that disseminate child pornography, rather than requiring law enforcement officials to pursue offenders through the courts.

While Britain has passed a law authorizing a similar crackdown on digital piracy, other E.U. members have been more circumspect. On the filtering of illegal content, German officials have expressed reservations about the French approach.

The New York Times acknowledges some of the disparities and congruences here, along with the reality of a fast-changing world where Europe it but one of the global hubs of influence. For instance, India, China and Indonesia, with hundreds of millions of online citizens, don’t have a clear seat at the eG8 table, so to speak. All of them have a stake in subsequent policy choices.

Many organizations concerned with human rights, liberties and civil society online have released a statement to the eG8 and G8 that advocates “expanding internet access for all, combating
digital censorship and surveillance, limiting online intermediary liability, and upholding
principles of net neutrality.”

In particular, a coalition of organizations – which includes the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Reporters without Borders – has highlighted concerns about a trend towards increasing “intermediary liability” and defending freedom of speech online. Part of France’s HADOPI law was declared unconstitutional in 2009 but a “3 strikes and you’re off the Net” reality still persists. In other words, while you’re in France, watch what you download.

For those unfamiliar with the issue, intermediary liability refers to holding Internet service providers or online media platforms liable for their users posting copyrighted or defamatory content. The ACTA treaty appears to increase such liability. United States Internet policies in this area over the past two decades have enabled many new businesses and services to flourish, as venture capitalist Fred Wilson articulated this week.

The coalition of civil society organizations urged eG8 participants “to follow the example of the Brazilian government’s Principles for the Governance and Use of the Internet, specifically #7 which reads: ‘All action taken against illicit activity on the network must be aimed at those directly responsible for such activities, and not at the means of access and transport, always upholding the fundamental principles of freedom, privacy and the respect for human rights.'”

Such measures and the issues that they are taken to address are not at all foreign to the halls of Washington and related Internet policy discussions, or the actions of the American federal government in recent months. That said, the United States federal government is not monolithic in its policies. It will be quite interesting, for instance, to see how the White House’sInternet freedom policy is defended by the State Department, particularly if compared or contrasted with, say, the actions of the Department of Homeland security or the Justice Department by other members of the G8.

Recent website takedowns by ICE, in concert with the White House IP and copyright office, highlight that governments on both sides of the Atlantic. are taking action to address the concerns of industry. The re-introduction of a new, tweaked “Protect IP” bill that would force search engines to remove sites that list infringing context from their indices is a legislative aspect of that common thread.

The White House has outlined an “international strategy for cyberspace” offers some insight into where American officials may stand in some respects, along with associated issues of identity, privacy and security.

As the eG8 forum looms, it’s unclear how much of the event will be an opportunity for president Sarkozy to stake out France’s position on Internet policy, how much of the programme will offer a forum for information exchange, or how much weight will be given to any resulting recommendation by policy makers. The Reuters analysis of this Web economy forum highlights these complexities. Realistically, two days and 800-odd participants may not drive much more than conversation. That said, in a time and place when the Internet – and being connected to it – are an increasingly important factor in the lives of billions of citizens, how it is architected, governed and extended matters.

Plain writing is “indispensable” for open government

Obama confers with advisors before the Cairo speech

President Barack Obama confers about the Cairo speech with Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Denis McDonough, right, and speechwriter Ben Rhodes on Air Force One en route to Cairo, Egypt, June 4, 2009. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

Open government is not expressly defined as embracing technology, although it can and is be empowered by smart use of it. Last year, Cass Sunstein made plain language an essential part of open government.

Last week, Sunstein, who serves as the administrator of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, finalized his guidance for the use of plain language in government communication a core part of open government.

For those who have tried to make sense of complex rulemaking, regulations, official announcements or directives, the change will be welcome. For the average citizen trying to comply with them, it’s essential.

“Plain writing is indispensable” to achieving the goals of establishing “a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration,” wrote Sunstein on the White House blog. “…far too often, agencies use confusing, technical, and acronym-filled language. Such language can cost consumers and small business owners precious time in their efforts to play by the rules.”

By July 13, 2011, federal agencies must:

  • designate a senior official oversee plain language
  • create and maintain a “plain writing section” of the agency website that is
    accessible from the agency homepage
  • train employees to use plain language

“Whenever officials provide information about Federal benefits and services, produce documents that are necessary for filing taxes, or offer notices or instructions to the public, they must now write clearly and concisely,” wrote Sunstein.

Will it matter? In measuring the progress of the Open Government Directive, implementation matters. It will be no different here, as changing the culture of government to plain language will never be a matter of installing “a better app for that.”

It was clear back in September that in the United States, open government remains in beta. A year after federal government agencies published their open government plans, the projects are starting to roll out, like the rebooted or NASA’s Open Source Summit. Compiling an Open Government Week in Review this month served as a useful reminder of how much is happening in this space.

As agencies update their progress on open government, however, the focus has often been upon new digital initiatives. Now they have a mission that has very little to do with technology and everything to do with better communicating the activities of government to citizens: adopt the Elements of Gov 2.0 Style.

Below is the full, finalized guidance. More information is available at
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Tools for the Citizen Scientist: measuring NASA’s open government progress [INFOGRAPHiC]

<img alt="" src=" " title="NASA Open Government Infographic" width="600" height ="1333"

NASA‘s celebration of the one year anniversary of its implementation of the Obama administration’s Open Government Directive included a beautiful new infographic, above.

To zoom in, you can download and explore a hi-resolution image of the infographic.

The sweeping, visually accessible representation of the galaxy of open government activity at NASA shows the progress that the air and space agency has taken to towards accomplishing the more than 150 milestones it committed to reaching in the NASA open government plan.

Overall, this infographic estimated the progress of NASA towards completing all of elements at 64%. The most recent step, NASA’s Open Source Summit, highlighted the progress, potential and problems with open source a NASA.

Overall, NASA currently rates the completion of the open source component of its open government plan at only 20%: there’s a long journey ahead in that area, as in others. Writes NASA: “We have made great progress in some areas; others have taken longer than we anticipated and extra time is required to fully realize the goals.”

Some missions will, by nature, take longer than others.

What is open government data? What is it good for? [FILM]

Open government data broadly refers to public sector records that have been made available to citizens. For a canonical resource on what makes such releases truly “open,” consult the 8 principles of open government data. Today, the Open Knowledge Foundation has released a terrific new short film entitled “#opendata” that offers expert perspectives on what open government data is and how it can be useful to society.

#opendata from Open Knowledge Foundation on Vimeo.

For more information, visit The film has already been translated into Czech, Spanish, Hungarian and Chinese. If you’d like to volunteer to translate it into another language, the makers of the film are actively seeking help.

In the broader context, The Economist‘s support for open government data remains salient today: “Public access to government figures is certain to release economic value and encourage entrepreneurship. That has already happened with weather data and with America’s GPS satellite-navigation system that was opened for full commercial use a decade ago. And many firms make a good living out of searching for or repackaging patent filings.”

In the United States, the open data story in healthcare is particularly compelling, from new mobile apps that spur better health decisions to data spurring changes in care at the Veterans Administration.

As Clive Thompson reported at Wired this month, public sector data can help fuel jobs, “shoving more public data into the commons could kick-start billions in economic activity.” In the transportation sector, for instance, transit data is open government fuel for economic growth.

Thompson focused on the story of Brightscope, where government data drives the innovation economy. “That’s because all that information becomes incredibly valuable in the hands of clever entrepreneurs,” wrote Thompson. “Pick any area of public life and you can imagine dozens of startups fueled by public data. I bet millions of parents would shell out a few bucks for an app that cleverly parsed school ratings, teacher news, test results, and the like.”


Open Government MAGIC: Media Access to Government Information Conference

The right of the governed to gain access to information about their government is a core pillar of the compact between “We the People” in the United States and those they elect to office. The quality, breadth and depth of that access, however, is often troubled.

Today in Washington, the Media Access to Government Information Conference (MAGIC) will explore these issues from within the august halls of the National Archives. MAGIC is a collaborative, one-day conference sponsored by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and Duke University’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy. The primary focus of the conference is to highlight how journalists and others writing about public affairs can gain better access to government records by journalists. A liveblog of the proceedings, agenda and associated papers are embedded below:

Program and Papers

9:00-9:20 Welcome by David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, NARA; Sanford Ungar, President Goucher College, and Member, Public Interest Declassification Board

9:20-10:30 Session 1: Media Access to Federal Government Records

Journalists and NGO participants on this panel will address how FOIA and access to federal records might be re-tooled as the federal government implements its open government and transparency policies. Government panelists will describe their vision for how new policies and technologies are changing access to government records. Additional topics may include:

  • Institutionalizing the release of common records used to monitor agency activity rather than waiting for FOIA requests to come in;
  • Centralizing, updating, and documenting information systems on agency FOIA websites; and
  • Building openness into administrative (records collecting) systems that are eventually released to the public.

Moderator: Irene Wu, Director of Research, SAND-MNIA International Bureau, FCC

  • Gary Bass, Founder and Executive Director, OMB Watch;
  • Sarah Cohen, Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy, Duke University;

  • William Kammer, Chief, FOIA Division, U.S. Department of Defense, and Vice President, American Society of Access Professionals;
  • Miriam Nisbet, Director, Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), NARA

10:30-10:45 Morning Break

10:45-Noon Session 2: Technical Hurdles, Research Solutions

Journalists on the panel will identify specific technical problems in dealing with government records at federal, state, local, and tribal levels. Government officials will identify specific technical solutions or research agendas to find solutions to these problems. Additional topics may include:

  • Re-tooling internal government information systems to improve the quality of records release;
  • Government agency support of research to improve the mining and analyzing of documents not born digital, handwritten responses on forms, and audio/video of government proceedings; and
  • Insights into emerging technologies and cyber infrastructure that may facilitate media access to government records.

Moderator: Robert Chadduck, Acting Director, National Archives Center for Advanced Systems and Technologies (NCAST), NARA

  • David Donald, Data Editor, Center for Public Integrity
  • Richard Marciano, Professor and Director @ Sustainable Archives and Leveraging Technologies group, UNC School of Information and Library Science
  • George Strawn, Director, National Coordination Office, Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program
  • Ken Thibodeau, Former Director (Retired), National Archives Center for Advanced Systems and Technologies (NCAST)
  • Derek Willis, Web developer, New York Times

Noon-1:30 Luncheon

1:30-2:45 Session 3: Access to State, Local, and Tribal Government Records

Journalists on this panel will identify issues that arise frequently in seeking records at state, local, and tribal levels. Government panelists will discuss possible solutions to making these records more easily available, and how different levels of government may leverage IT to improve access to records. Additional topics may include:

  • Types of records sought at state, local, and tribal level;
  • Special challenges in variations in open access policies across states and localities; and
  • Federal funds expenditure rules that might trigger more transparency at state and local level.

Moderator: David McMillen, NARA External Affairs Liaison

2:45-3:15 Afternoon Break

3:15-4:30 Session 4: Private Sector Actions

NGO participants will discuss how they work to improve access to records, including participation in discussions to retool government records systems for better access by journalists. Additional topics may include:

  • What transparency advocates, journalism organizations, foundations, and academics could do to support access policies; and
  • The development of tools to aid in the analysis of government records.

Moderator: James Hamilton, Director, DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, Duke University

  • Bill Allison, Editorial Director, Sunlight Foundation
  • Rick Blum, Coordinator, The Sunshine in Government Initiative
  • Danielle Brian, Executive Director and Project on Government Oversight
    Bryan Rahija, Blog Editor, Project on Government Oversight
  • Charles Lewis, Executive Editor, Investigative Reporting Workshop and Professor, School of Communication, American University

NYC deputy major Stephen Goldsmith on urban innovation in the Big Apple

I spoke with New York City deputy Mayor Steven Goldsmith (@s_goldsmith) about citizensourcing smarter government in New York City earlier this year. The following interview with CSPAN is worth watching for those interested in further insight into his perspective on urban governance in the 21st century.