United States opens public comment on commitments for a new national open government plan

opengov interagency

Last fall, the U.S. government delayed formation of the fourth national action plan after committing to participation with a public consultation – despite historic regressions on open government across federal agencies under the Trump administration.

This May, the White House quietly renewed its commitment to lead the co-creation of a new national action plan for open government, as required for participation in the Open Government Partnership (OGP), the international good governance initiative that the United States and 7 other nations launched in 2011.

On June 14, the U.S. government hosted a public workshop at the General Services Administration in DC. I attended, and shared some of what I saw there in a thread on Twitter that I’ve embedded below:

At the outset of the workshop, which was conducted under Chatham House rules, White House officials and a representative from the OGP all spoke on the record about the effort and how the ideation exercise would work.

Matt Lira, the special assistant to the president for innovation policy and initiatives, Bill Hunt, a digital services expert at the White House Office of Management and Budget,and Joseph Foti, the program manager for the Independent Reporting Mechanism of the Open Government Partnership, all spoke at the outset of the workshop, encouraging the participants and the American public to suggest and comment upon public commitments to transparency, accountability, public service delivery, and ethics reforms. You can watch archive video of their remarks in the embedded below. Th

Lira:

Foti:

Hunt:

Next: More public participation and comment.

Last week, the GSA re-opened the Github instance to collect feedback from the American public for the new National Action Plan for Open Government, with 139 issues listed after last fall’s flawed consultation. There are now 143 issues, after the four suggested commitments that yesterday’s workshop voted to further develop were added.

I submitted 4 commitments last fall, on ethics reform, and worked on a commitment to engage the legislative branch in proposing and enacting open government reform bills yesterday. The co-creation process our table went through was constructive, collegial and productive. I was particularly pleased to collaborated with Melanie Pustay, the director of the Office of Information Policy at the Justice Department, given her role in the administration of the Freedom of Information Act.

People who don’t wish to create a Github account can email nap4@gsa.gov and civil servants will publish the public comment — as long as it meets the public engagement guidelines that the GSA has posted — or dial into or attend next week’s workshop in DC.

Takeaways

One day after the workshop, the GSA has uploaded pictures of the workshop and ideas to Github – but no agencies or their leadership have asked the public to help co-create the plan and shared the relevant URL, open.usa.gov, in 2018 using official government social media accounts or websites, much less the White House or the president himself.

The first open question, which I posed at the end of the workshop, is whether federal agencies and the White House will now make an effort to engage the public — both directly in person, online and through the press — and meet with the coalition of advocates and good government watchdogs that have documented the federal government’s regressions on open government.

The institutions and individuals who work on these issues full time in Washington have understandably become skeptical of this administration’s actual commitment to transparency and accountability, given ongoing ethics violations, obstruction of justice, politicization of federal law enforcement, attacks on the press, and corruption at the highest level of the executive branch.

Continuing to pursue participation in OGP would have faced headwinds, as the Obama administration did, regardless of the occupant of the Oval Office, but this consultation is taking place at a low point in our union’s politics, in which American society has become more polarized along a partisan divide and more distrustful of the institutions of government.

That means that the Trump administration need to show, not tell, how it will rebuild trust with the public, press and the people who work on these issues full time. Commitments without action on recent regression won’t build trust around future promises.

The second open question is whether the U.S. government will accept commitments into a final action plan that don’t come from pre-existing agendas and initiatives. Last fall’s workshops were initially seeded with bullets from the GSA’s Emerging Technologies program. This spring’s workshops have the President’s Management Agenda as a “suggested theme.” The thing is, the Open Government Partnership’s themes do not include IT modernization, digital government services or management.

A legitimate plan has to include commitments that the government does not want to make but that are directly responsive to the needs and goals of the public and public interest advocates.

The answers to those questions will become clearer over the course of a long, hot summer in DC.

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