White House silent about missing United States open government plan

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Silence speaks volumes when it comes to public engagement and announcements about transparency initiatives. That’s a gross understatement in the White House of 2018, but true around the world.

As Tajha Chappellet-Lanier reports, an August 31 deadline has come and gone – but there is still no fourth National Action Plan for Open Government for the Open Government Partnership, three months after the United States government re-opened public comments for new commitments to the global, multi-stakeholder initiative.

When asked for comment, the White House had no response to Chappellet-Lanier.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve repeatedly asked the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Office of the Press Secretary for comment and received no response. If I do, I’ll update this post.

After receiving and documenting assurances from White House officials and civil servants in June that workshops and this public consultation were being held in good faith, the Trump White House has once again simply gone dark, as it did after the Office of Management and Budget abruptly delayed a publishing new plan on October 31, 2017.

What to make of this?

It is one of the two likely scenarios that I outlined in an explanatory analysis I contributed to Federal Computer Week in August:

As in other nations, if the White House submits a plan, look for it to position existing digital government initiatives and emerging technology programs – like those outlined in the Presidential Management Agenda – in a handful of commitments in a new open government plan. (That’s a maneuver that has been aptly described as “openwashing” in the past.) It’s also possible that the administration will keep delaying and drawing the consultation process out, given the absence of meaningful consequences for doing so in the court of public opinion, particularly at a historic moment when the presidency itself typified by crisis.

The latter scenario is where the process stands today.

Will this silence matter? It’s unlikely, given the context of the chaotic, corrupt presidency in which regression from good governance has been the norm.

In September 2018, the consequences for delaying a national plan for the Open Government Partnership again are negligible for the United States government if watchdogs don’t cry foul, Congress doesn’t hold hearings, and media outlets that the White House and President Trump cares about don’t cover it.

That doesn’t mean that those constituencies shouldn’t be paying attention, only that public attention is both deeply fractured, polarized, and focused on other issues.

The Partnership itself isn’t commenting, beyond noting that its steering committee will review the issue in January 2019, long after a different sort of verdict has been rendered upon this Congress and administration in the midterm election.

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