If you look at the White House open government dashboard, you might be forgiven for thinking that all agencies had complied with the mandate to post plans, publish “high value” datasets to Data.gov and implemented them. It’s all “green” and “yellow.”
The reality is more complex. Measuring the outcomes of open government initiatives effectively is a task that will require the attention of watchdogs, inspector generals, economists and academics. (See the work of the Sunlight Foundation on building ClearSpending.org to evaluate the quality of federal spending data on USASpending.gov, for example.)
What I could do was to simply assess whether agencies have updated their 2010 plans and published them online. When I visited the websites of 29 federal agencies, I found that less than half of them (13) had posted a “2.0” version of their plans.) 9 had not updated them since 2010. Based upon that audit, there should be a lot more red on the White House’s /open dashboard.
UPDATE: As of May 7th, several agencies had updated and published their plans online. (I’ve updated the spreadsheet below.) The remaining laggards: Defense, Labor, OMB, USTR, Veterans Affairs, National Archives, NSF, NRC, ONDCP and White House OSTP.
UPDATE: As of September 7th, Labor and OMB, ONDCP still had not updated their plans. Amy Bennett, director of Open The Government, brought the lag to the public’s attention. More context follows after the dashboard.
This issue came up this past week at the “Open Government Reality Check” at Information Week’s Government IT Forum. Given the prompt, perhaps the administration will put more pressure on agencies to update, publish and share their plans, including sharing them with the public on social media. (NASA, Energy and USDA have led the way on the latter count.) Applying pressure from OMB to implement against them is another matter, though some agencies continue to move forward. The Department of Transporation, for instance, recently launched Safety.Data.gov.
White House officials might also look to updating their own plans: the open government plan from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy doesn’t appear to have been updated since April 7, 2010.
If and when the White House does update this dashboard, additional metrics might be added for each agency: “Number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests made,” “FOIA requests fulfilled” and “average time to response.”
A story this week on airline passenger complaints by Michael Grabell at ProPublica, for instance, showed that a FOIA request to TSA took four years to fulfill.
Since this data is, in theory, being posted at FOIA.gov, integrating and displaying these metrics would offer both a broader and more granular insight into the administration’s open government performance. Changes in culture will naturally be harder to measure.