The White House (quietly) asks for feedback on the open government section of its website

Obama at computer. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Over at Govfresh, Luke Fretwell took note of the White House asking for feedback on the open government section of WhiteHouse.gov. Yesterday, Corinna Zarek, senior advisor for open government in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), where the administration’s Open Government Initiative was originally spawned under former deputy chief technology officer Beth Noveck, published a email to the US Open Government Google Group:

We are working on a refresh of the Open Gov website, found at whitehouse.gov/open, and we’d like your help!

If you’re familiar with the history of the page, you can see we have begun updating it by shifting some of the existing content and adding new tabs and material.

What suggestions do you have for the site? What other efforts might we feature?

Please let us know – reply back to this thread, email us at opengov@ostp.gov, or tweet us at @OpenGov!

Here’s some background on the group and its purpose: The White House’s Open Government Working Group needs to solicit feedback from civil society in the United States on the various initiatives and commitments the administration has made. Such engagement is essential to the providing feedback from governance experts, advocates and the public on the development of new agency open government plans and discuss progress on the national open government action plan.

As a result of a discussion at the working group this spring, OSTP created the US Open Government discussion group to connect White House staff and agency officials who work on open government to people outside of the federal government. According to the group’s description, the goal of this group is to “provide a safe and welcoming arena for government-focused collaboration and news-sharing around Open Government efforts of the United States government.” That “safe and welcoming” language is notable: the group is moderated by OpenTheGovernment.org with an eye on constructive, on-topic feedback, as opposed to, say, the much more open-ended freewheeling posts and threads on the (long-since closed) Open Government Dialog of 2009 or Change.gov.

After almost six months, the open government group, which can be accessed through a Web browser or using an email listserv, has 177 members and 37 posts. By almost any measure, these are extremely low levels of participation and engagement, although the quality of feedback from those members remains extremely high. By way of contrast, a open government and civic tech group on Facebook now has over 1900 members and an open government community on Google+ has over 1400 members, with both enjoying almost daily contributions. Low participation rates on this US Open Government Google Group are likely due in part to lack of promotion by other White House staff to the media or using the various social media platforms has joined, which cumulatively have millions of followers, and, more broadly, the historic lows of public trust in government which have created icy headwinds for open government initiatives in recent years.

So far, Zarek’s solicitation has received two responses. One comes from Daniel Schuman, policy director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington, who made great suggestions, like adding a link to ethics.data.gov, a list of staff working on openness in the White House and their areas of responsibility, a link to 18f and the USDS.

“Finally, there are many great ideas about how to make government more open and transparent,” wrote Schuman. “Consider including a way for people to submit ideas where those submissions are also visible to the public (assuming they do not violate TOS). Consider how agencies or the government could respond to these suggestions. Perhaps a miniature version of “We the People,” but without the voting requiring a response.”

The other idea comes from open government consultant Lucas Cioffi, who suggested adding a link to a “community-powered open government phone hotline” like the experiment he recently created.

To those ideas, I’ll add eight quick suggestions in the spirit of open government:

1) Reinstate the open government dashboard that was removed and update it to the current state of affairs and compliance, with links to each. The Sunlight Foundation and CREW have already audited agency compliance with the Open Government Directive. By keeping an updated scorecard in a prominent place, the Obama administration could both increase transparency to members of the public wondering about what has been done and by whom, and put more pressure on agencies to be accountable for the commitments they have made.

2) Re-integrate individual case studies from the “Innovator’s Toolkit,” which was also removed, under participation and collaboration

3) Create a Transparency tab and link to the “IC on the Record” tumblr and other public repositories for formerly secret laws, policies or documents that have been released.

4) Blog and tweet more about what’s happening in the open government world outside of the White House. Multiple open government advocates do daily digests and there’s a steady stream of news and ideas on the #opengov and #opendata hashtags on Twitter. Link to what’s happening and show the public that you’re reading and responding to feedback.

5) Link to the White House account and open government projects on Github under both the new participation and collaboration tabs, like Project Open Data.

6) Highlight 18F’s effort to reboot the Freedom of Information Act.

7) Publish the second national action plan on open government as HTML on the site, and post and link to a version on Github where people can comment on it.

8)  Create a FAQ under “participation” that lists replies to questions sent to @OpenGov

If you have ideas for what should be wh.gov/open, well, now you know who to tell, and where.

US CTO Park to step down, move west to recruit for Uncle Sam

IMG_0507.JPG

United States chief technology officer Todd Park will be moving to California at the end of August, just in time to take his kids to the first day of school. He’ll be shifting from his current position in the Office of Science and Technology a Policy to a new role in the White House, recruiting technologists to join public service. The move was first reported in Fortune Magazine and then Reuters, among other outlets. Update: On August 28th, the White House confirmed that Park would continue serving in the administration in a new role in blog post on WhiteHouse.gov.

“From launching the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, to opening up troves of government data to the public, to helping spearhead the successful turnaround of HealthCare.gov, Todd has been, and will continue to be, a key member of my Administration,” said President Barack Obama, in a statement. “I thank Todd for his service as my Chief Technology Officer, and look forward to his continuing to help us deploy the best people and ideas from the tech community in service of the American people.”

“I’m deeply grateful for Todd’s tireless efforts as U.S. Chief Technology Officer to improve the way government works and to generate better outcomes for the American people,” added White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director and Assistant to the President John Holdren. “We will miss him at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, but we’re fortunate Todd will continue to apply his considerable talents to the Obama Administration’s ongoing efforts to bring the country’s best technologists into the Federal Government.”

It will be interesting to see how Park approaches recruiting the nation’s technologists to serve in the new U.S. Digital Service and federal agencies in the coming months.

“It continues to be the greatest honor of my life to serve the President and the country that I love so very much,” stated Park, in the blog post. “I look forward to doing everything I can in my new role to help bring more and more of the best talent and best ideas from Silicon Valley and across the nation into government.”

For a wonderfully deep dive into what’s next for him, read Steven Levy’s masterfully reported feature (his last for Wired) on how Park is not done rebooting government just yet:

Park wants to move government IT into the open source, cloud-based, rapid-iteration environment that is second nature to the crowd considering his pitch tonight. The president has given reformers like him leave, he told them, “to blow everything the fuck up and make it radically better.” This means taking on big-pocketed federal contractors, risk-averse bureaucrats, and politicians who may rail at overruns but thrive on contributions from those benefiting from the waste. It also will require streamlined regulations from both the executive and legislative branches. But instead of picking fights, Park wants to win by showing potential foes the undeniable superiority of a modern approach. He needs these coders to make it happen, to form what he calls a Star Wars-style Rebel Alliance, a network of digital special forces teams. He can’t lure them with stock options, but he does offer a compelling opportunity: a chance to serve their country and improve the lives of millions of their fellow citizens.

“We’re looking for the best people on the planet,” he said. “We have a window of opportunity—right the fuck now—within this government, under this president, to make a huge difference.

“Drop everything,” he told them, “and help the United States of America!”

Who will be the new CTO?

The next US CTO will have big shoes to fill: Park has played key roles advising the president on policy, opening up government data and guiding the Presidential Innovation Fellows program and, when the president asked, rescuing Healthcare.gov, the federal online marketplace for health insurance. While it’s not clear who will replace Park yet, sources have confirmed to me that there will be another U.S. CTO in this administration. What isn’t clear is what role he (or she) might play, a question that Nancy Scola explored at The Switch for the Washington Post this week:

There’s a growing shift away from the idea, implicit in Obama’s pledge to create the U.S. CTO post back in 2007, that one person could alone do much of the work of fixing how the United States government thinks about IT. Call it the “great man” or “great woman” theory of civic innovation, perhaps, and it’s on the way out. The new U.S. Digital Service, the pod of technologists called 18F housed at the General Services Administration, the White House’s Presidential Innovation Fellows, even Park’s new outreach role in Silicon Valley — all are premised on the idea that the U.S. needs to recruit, identify, organize, and deploy simply more smart people who get technology.

An additional role for the third US CTO will be an example of the Obama administration’s commitment to more diverse approach to recruiting White House tech staffers in the second term. The men to hold the office were both the sons of immigrants: Aneesh Chopra is of Indian descent, and Park of Korean. As Colby Hochmuth reported for Federal Computer Week, the White House of Office and Science and Technology Policy achieved near-gender parity under Park.

If, as reported by Bloomberg News, Google X VP Megan Smith were to be chosen as the new US CTO, her inclusion as an openly gay woman, the first to hold the post, and the application of her considerable technological acumen to working on the nation’s toughest challenges would be an important part of Park’s legacy.

Update: On September 4th, the White House confirmed that Smith would be the next US CTO and former Twitter general counsel Alex Macgillvray would be a deputy US CTO.

[PHOTO CREDIT: Pete Souza]

This post has been updated with additional links, statements and analysis.

White House e-petition system hits 15 million users, 22 million signatures and 350,000 petitions

Last week, the White House took a victory lap  for a novel event in U.S. history, when a bill that had its genesis as an online petition to the United States government filed at WhiteHouse.gov became law after the 113th Congress actually managed to passed a bill.

In a blog post explaining how cell phone locking became legal, Ezra Mechaber, deputy director of email and petitions in the White House Office of Digital Strategy, noted that this outcome “marked the very first time a We the People petition led to a legislative fix.” Mechaber also highlighted continued growth for the national e-petition platform: 15 million users, 22 million signatures and 350,000 petitions since it was launched in 2011.

WeThePeople epetition statistics

Mechaber also mentioned two other things worth highlighting: “a simplified signing process that removes the need to create an account just to sign a petition”  and a Write API that will “eventually allow people to sign petitions using new technologies, and on sites other than WhiteHouse.gov.” If and when that API goes live, I expect user growth and activity to spike again. Imagine, for instance, if people could sign petitions from within news stories or though Change.org. Enabling petition creators to have more of a relationship with signatories would also address one of the principal critiques levied against the site’s function. Professor Dave Karpf:

Launching the online petition at We The People created the conditions for a formal response from the White House.  That was a plus.  We The People provided no help in amplifying the petitions through email and social media.  That was neutral in this case, since Reddit, EFF, Public Knowledge, and others were helping to amplify instead.  But the site left the petition-creators with no residual list for follow-up actions.  That’s a huge minus.

If the petition had been launched through a different site (like Change.org), then it would have been less likely to get a formal White House response, but more likely to facilitate the follow-up actions that Khanna/Howard, Wiens and Khanifar say are vital to eventual success.

The White House has not provided a timeline for when the beta API will become public. If they respond to my questions, I’ll update this post.

Data journalism and the changing landscape for policy making in the age of networked transparency

This morning, I gave a short talk on data journalism and the changing landscape for policy making in the age of networked transparency at the Woodrow Wilson Center in DC, hosted by the Commons Lab.

Video from the event is online at the Wilson Center website. Unfortunately, I found that I didn’t edit my presentation down enough for my allotted time. I made it to slide 84 of 98 in 20 minutes and had to skip the 14 predictions and recommendations section. While many of the themes I describe in those 14 slides came out during the roundtable question and answer period, they’re worth resharing here, in the presentation I’ve embedded below:

DC city government issues executive order on open data, FOIA portal and chief data officer

Today, the District of Columbia launched a new online service for Freedom of Information Act requests and Mayor Vincent Gray issued a transparency, open government and open data directive. DC city government has come under harsh criticism from the ACLU for its record on FOIA and transparency and has a spate of recent corruption scandals, albeit not one that appears to be worse than other major American cities.

“This new online FOIA system is a key part of our strategy to improve government transparency and accountability,” said Mayor Gray, in a statement. “In addition, the executive order I am issuing today sends an important message to District government agencies and the public: Everyone wins when we make it easier for the public to understand the workings of the District government. I also look forward to seeing the exciting applications I hope the District’s technology community will develop with the government data we will be putting online.”

Here’s what Mayor Gray has instructed DC government to do:

1) Within 30 days from today, the DC chief technology officer (currently Rob Mancini) must create “a common Web portal” that “will serve as the source for District-wide and agency activities related to this Transparency and Open Data Directive.” Translation: OCTO must create a new website that aggregates information related to this directive.

2) OCTO will publish technical standards for open data by November 1, 2014. DC government could refer to the Sunlight Foundation’s Open Data Guidelines as a useful reference, or the canonical 8 principles of Open Government Data.

3) Within 120 days from today, the DC City Administrator and each deputy mayor must identify at least 3 new high-value datasets to publish to the DC Data Catalog that are either not currently available or not available in an exportable format.

4) Starting on October 1, 2014, and continuing annually, each DC agency will develop and publish an “Open Government Report” that will “describe how the agency has or will enhance and develop transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Each agency shall include in its open government report a description of the information (including data) that will be made available to the public, formats in which information and data will be made.”

Translation: city agencies will report on how they’re doing complying with this mandate. Hopefully, the DC Office of Open Government will be an effective ombudsman on that progress, along with directly engaging on Freedom of Information Act disputes and processes, and will do more public engagement around open government or open data than @OCTONEWS has to date.

Unfortunately, and not a little bit ironically, the directive was published online as a scanned-in PDF that is neither searchable nor accessible to the blind, itself embodying the way not to release text online in the 21st century. Below, I have summarized the main deliverables mandated in the directive and converted the images to plain text. Following the order is criticism from open government advocate, civic hacker, and DC resident Josh Tauberer.


GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

ADMINISTRATIVE ISSUANCE SYSTEM

Mayor’s Order 2014-170
July 21, 2014

SUBJECT: Transparency, Open Government and Open Data Directive

ORIGINATING AGENCY: Office of the Mayor

By virtue of the authority vested in me as Mayor of the District of Columbia by section 422(2) and (11) of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, approved December 24, 1973, 87 Stat. 790, Pub. L. No. 93-198, D.C. Official Code § 1-204.22(2) and (11) (2012 Repl.), and section 206 of the District of Columbia Freedom of Information Act, effective March 25, 1977, D.C. Law 1-96, D.C. Official Code § 2-536 (2012 Repl.), it is hereby ORDERED that:

SECTION 1: Introduction.

a. Background. The District of Columbia government (“District”) is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. Agency heads will work together and with the public to ensure public trust, and an open and effective government by establishing a system of transparency, public participation, collaboration, and accountability that increases the public’s confidence in their government. The goal of this directive is to provide a tool for prescribing and institutionalizing change within all departments and agencies.

The District has been a leader in government transparency and open data policy in the United States. In 2001, the Freedom of Information Act was amended to require that certain public records be published online. Since 2006, the District has been making data publicly available on the Internet. In January 2011, Mayor’s Memorandum 2011-1, entitled Transparency and Open Government Policy, was issued, recognizing that the District government needed to continue to proactively provide information to citizens, and thereby reduce the need for information requests. This directive implements Mayor’s Memorandum 2011-1, to require District government departments and agencies to take the following
steps to achieve the goal of creating a more transparent and open government:

b. Definitions.

  1. “Chief Data Officer” (“CDO”) means the Chief Technology Officer or a Chief Data Officer designated by the Chief Technology Officer.
  2.  “Data” means statistical, or factual, quantitative, or qualitative information that are regularly maintained or created by or on behalf of a District agency, and controlled by such agency in structured formats, including statistical or factual information about image files and geographic information system data.
  3. “Dataset” means a named collection of related records, with the collection containing data organized or formatted in a specific or prescribed way, often in tabular form.
  4. “Open Government Coordinator” means agency personnel designated by an agency head, in coordination with the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (“OCTO”) or the CDO as appropriate, to ensure that the information and data required to be published online is published and updated as required by this Order.
  5. “Protected data” means (i) any dataset or portion thereof to which an agency may deny access pursuant to the District of Columbia Freedom of Information Act, effective March 25, 1977 (D.C. Law 1-96; D.C. Official Code § 2-531 et seq.)(“FOIA”), or any other law or rule or regulation; (ii) any dataset that contains a significant amount of data to which an agency may deny access pursuant to FOIA or any other law or rule or regulation promulgated thereunder, if the removal of such protected data from the dataset would impose an undue financial or administrative burden on the agency; or (iii) any data which, if disclosed on the District of Columbia Data Catalog, could raise privacy, confidentiality or security concerns or jeopardize or have the potential to jeopardize public health, safety or welfare.

C. Scope.

a. The requirements of this Order shall be applied to any District of Columbia department, office, administrative unit, commission, board, advisory committee or other division of the District government (“agency”), including the records of third party agency contractors that create or acquire information, records, or data on behalf of a District agency.

b. Any agency that is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Mayor under the Freedom of Information Act or any other law is strongly encouraged to comply with the requirements of this Order.

SECTION 2: Transparency and Open Government Policy.

a. Publish Government Information Online. To increase accountability and transparency, promote informed public participation, and create economic development opportunities, each District agency shall expand access to information by making it proactively available online, and when practicable, in an open format that can be retrieved, downloaded, indexed, sorted, searched, and reused by commonly used Web search applications and commonly used software to facilitate access to and reuse of information. Examples of open format include HTML, XML, CSV, JSON, RDF or XHTML. The Freedom of Information Act creates a presumption in favor of openness and publication (to the extent permitted by law and subject to valid privacy, confidentiality, security, or other restrictions).

b. Open Government Web Portal: Within 30 days from the date of this Order, the Chief Technology Officer shall establish a common web portal that will serve as the source for District-wide and agency activities related to this Transparency and Open Data Directive. The Chief Technology Officer, in his or her discretion, may build upon an existing web portal, or may establish a new portal. Each agency shall be responsible for ensuring that the information required to be published online is accessible from the agency’s designated Open Government and FOIA webpage. The required information shall include, but is not limited to, where applicable:

  1. Means for the public to submit and track Freedom of Information Act requests online;
  2. The information required to be made public under this Directive and D.C. Official Code § 2-536, including links to:
    A. Employee salary information;
    B. Administrative staff manuals and instructions that affect the public;
    C. Final opinions and orders made in the adjudication of cases;
    D. Statements of policy, interpretations of policy, and rules adopted by the agency;
    E. Correspondence and other materials relating to agency regulatory, supervisory or enforcement responsibilities in which the rights of the public are determined;
    F. Information dealing with the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds;
    G. Budget information;
    H. Minutes of public meetings;
    I. Absentee real property owners and their agent’s names and mailing addresses;
    J. Pending and authorized building permits;
    K. Frequently requested public records; and
    L. An index to the records referred to in this section;
  3. Freedom of Information Act reports;
  4. An organizational chart or statement of the agency’s major components;
  5. Links to high-value datasets (as defined in section 3(a)(4);
  6. Public Meeting Notices and minutes required to be published under the Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act; and
  7. A mechanism for the public to submit feedback on the agency’s Open Government Report or other agency actions.

c. Open Government Report. To institutionalize a culture of transparent and open government, accountability, and to expand opportunities for resident participation and collaboration, beginning October 1, 2014, and each year thereafter, each agency shall develop and publish an Open Government Report that will describe how the agency has or will enhance and develop transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Each agency shall include in its open government report a description of the information (including data) that will be made available to the public, formats in which information and data will be made available, a schedule for making the information available, the dates for which information and datasets will be updated, and contact information for agency Open Government Coordinators. The Open Government Report shall address the following topics, and be transmitted to the Mayor and Director of the Office of Open Government:

  1. Transparency: The Open Government Report shall reference statutes, regulations, policies, legislative records, budget information, geographic data, crime statistics, public health statistics, and other public records and data, and describe steps each agency has taken or will take to:A. Meet its legal information dissemination obligations under Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act;
    B. Create more access to information and opportunities for public participation; and
    C. Conduct its work more openly and publish its information online, including a plan for how each board and commission subject to the Open Meetings Act will ensure that all of its meetings are, where practicable, webcast live on the Internet.
  2. Participation: To create more informed and effective policies, each agency shall enhance and expand opportunities for the public to participate throughout agency decision-making processes. The Open Government Report will include descriptions of or plans to provide:A. Online access to proposed rules and regulations;
    B. Online access to information and resources to keep the public properly informed (such as frequently asked questions, contact information of city officials’ and departments, and other supportive content);
    C. Opportunities for the public to comment through the Web on any proposed rule, ordinance, or other regulation;
    D. Methods of identifying stakeholders and other affected parties and inviting their participation;
    E. Proposed changes to internal management and administrative policies to improve participation;
    F. Links to appropriate websites where the public can engage in the District government’s existing participatory processes;
    G. Proposals for new feedback mechanisms, including innovative tools and practices that create new and more accessible methods for public participation; and
    H. A plan that provides a timetable for ensuring that all meetings of boardsand commissions that are subject to the Open Meetings Act are webcast live and archived on the Internet.
  3. Collaboration: The Open Government Report will describe steps the agency will take or has taken to enhance and expand its practices to further cooperation among departments, other governmental agencies, the public, and non-profit and private entities in fulfilling its obligations. The Report will include specific details about:A. Proposed changes to internal management and administrative policies to improve collaboration;
    B. Proposals to use technology platforms to improve collaboration among District employees and the public;
    C. Descriptions of and links to appropriate websites where the public can learn about existing collaboration efforts; and
    D. Innovative methods, such as prizes and competitions, to obtain ideas from and to increase collaboration with those in the private sector, non-profit, and academic communities.

SECTION 3: Open Data Policy.

a. Agency Requirements.

  1. Each agency shall, in collaboration with the Chief Data Officer and OCTO, make available through the online District of Columbia Data Catalog all appropriate datasets, associated extensible metadata, and associated documented agency business processes under the agency’s control. Each agency, in collaboration with OCTO, shall determine the frequency for updates to a dataset, and the mechanism to be utilized. To the extent possible, datasets shall be updated through an automated process to limit the additional burden on agency resources. The publication of an agency’s datasets shall exclude protected data.
  2. Datasets under paragraph (4) shall be made available in accordance with technical standards published by OCTO not later than November 1, 2014 that ensure that data is published in a format that is machine readable, and fully accessible to the broadest range of users, for varying purposes. Datasets shall be made available to the public on an open license basis. An open license on a dataset signifies there are no restrictions on copying, publishing, further distributing, modifying or using the data for a non-commercial or commercial purpose.
  3. For the purposes of identifying datasets for inclusion on the District of Columbia Data Catalog, each agency shall consider whether the information embodied in the dataset is (i) reliable and accurate; (ii) frequently the subject of a written request for public records of the type that a public body is required to make available for inspection or copying under FOIA; (iii) increases agency accountability, efficiency, responsiveness or delivery of services; (iv) improves public knowledge of the agency and its operations; (v) furthers the mission of the agency; or (vi) creates economic opportunity.
  4. Within 120 days of the date of this Order, the City Administrator and each Deputy Mayor shall, collaborating with their cluster agencies, and OCTO, identify at least 3 new high-value datasets to publish to the Data Catalog, in accordance with OCTO’s open data standards. The identified high-value datasets will not be currently available, or not available in an exportable format. For the purposes of this section, “high-value dataset” includes agency outcome data, agency caseload data, data reported to the federal government outcome data, agency caseload data, data reported to the federal government by the agency, agency data reported as part of the performance measurement process, and any data that is tracked by the agency that is not protected data.

b. Chief Data Officer.

  1. The Chief Technology Officer shall designate a Chief Data Officer (“CDO”) for the District of Columbia to coordinate implementation, compliance and expansion of the District’s Open Data Program, to facilitate the sharing of information between departments and agencies, and to coordinate initiatives to improve decision making and management through data analysis. The Chief improve decision making and management through data analysis. The Chief Data Officer shall report to the Chief Technology Officer.
  2. The Chief Data Officer shall:
    A. Identify points of contact, which may include agency open government coordinators within departments, on data related issues who will be responsible for leading intra-departmental open data initiatives;
    B. Emphasize the culture behind open data and the benefits to ensure that opportunities to increase efficiency through open data practices can be obtained from those with the most direct expertise;
    C. Work together with District agencies to develop a methodology and framework that supports the collection, or creation of data in a way that assists in downstream data processing and open data distribution activities;
    D. Identify and overcome challenges with agency proprietary business systems; create and/or leverage opportunities through procurement or other means to upgrade legacy systems to one of an open data architecture; and
    E. Function as a data ombudsman for the public, fielding public feedback and ensuring the policy is included into a long-term data strategy.

c. District of Columbia Open Data Catalog.

  1. A single web portal, or integrated set of websites, shall be established and maintained by or on behalf of the District of Columbia. The Chief Data maintained by or on behalf of the District of Columbia. The Chief Data Officer, in collaboration with OCTO, may build upon previous open data initiatives, or may establish a new portal for managing and delivering open data benefits to constituents.
  2. Any dataset made accessible on the District of Columbia Data Catalog shall use an open format that permits automated processing of such data in a form that can be retrieved via an open application programming interface (API), downloaded, indexed, searched and reused by commonly used web search applications and software; (ii) use appropriate technology to notify the public of updates to the data; and (iii) be accessible to external search capabilities.
  3. OCTO shall (i) post on the portal a list of all datasets available on such portal; and (ii) establish and maintain on the portal an online forum to solicit feedback from the public and to encourage public discussion on open data policies and dataset availability.

d. Open Data Legal Policy.

  1. The District of Columbia Data Catalog and all public data contained on such portal shall be subject to Terms of Use developed by OCTO. Such Terms of Use shall be posted by OCTO in a conspicuous place on the District ofColumbia Data Catalog.
  2. Public data made available on the District of Columbia Data Catalog shall be provided as a public service, on an “as is” basis. Although the District will strive to ensure that such public data are accurate, the District shall make no warranty, representation or guaranty of any type as to the content, accuracy, timeliness, completeness or fitness for any particular purpose or use of any public data provided on such portal; nor shall any such warranty be implied, including, without limitation, the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. The District shall assume no liability for any other act identified in any disclaimer of liability or indemnification provision or any other provision set forth in the Terms of Use required under subsection (d)(1) of this section.
  3. The District shall reserve the right to discontinue availability of content on the District of Columbia Data Catalog at any time and for any reason. If a dataset is made accessible by an agency on the District of Columbia Data Catalog and such agency is notified or otherwise learns that any dataset or portion thereof posted on the Data Catalog is factually inaccurate or misleading or is protected data, the agency shall, as appropriate, promptly correct or remove, or cause to be corrected or removed, such data from the Data Catalog and shall so inform the Chief Data Officer.
  4. Nothing in this Order shall be deemed to prohibit OCTO or any agency or any third party that establishes or maintains the District of Columbia Data Catalog on behalf of the District from adopting or implementing measures necessary or appropriate to (1) ensure access to public datasets housed on the Data Catalog; (ii) protect the Data Catalog from unlawful use or from attempts to impair or damage the use of the portal; (iii) analyze the types of public data on the Data Catalog being used by the public in order to improve service delivery or for any other lawful purpose; (iv) terminate any and all display, distribution or other use of any or all of the public data provided on the Data Catalog for violation of any of the Terms of Use posted on the Data Catalog pursuant to subsection (d)(1) of this section; or (v) require a third party providing the District’s public data (or applications based on public data) to the public to explicitly identify the source and version of the public dataset, and describe any modifications made to the public dataset.
  5. Nothing in this Order shall be construed to create a private right of action to enforce any provision of this Order. Failure to comply with any provision of this Order shall not result in any liability to the District, including, but not limited to, OCTO or any agency or third party that establishes or maintains on behalf of the District the Open Data Services Portal required under this Order.

Section 4. Open Government Advisory Group.

a. The Mayor shall convene an Open Government Advisory Group to be chaired and convened by the Mayor’s designee, CDO, and the Director of the Office of Open Government within the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability.

b. The Open Government Advisory Group shall:

  1. Evaluate the District’s progress towards meeting the requirements of this Order and make specific recommendations for improvement; and
  2. Assist the Mayor and CDO in creating policy establishing specific criteria for agency identification of protected data in accordance with FOIA, maintenance of existing data, and the creation of data in open formats.

c. The CDO shall publish the evaluation and recommendations on the Open Government Web Portal or create an Open Government Dashboard that will provide the public with both graphic and narrative evaluation information.

Section 5: EFFECTIVE DATE:

This Order shall be effective immediately.

VINCENT C. GRAY
MAYOR

ATTEST:
CYNTHIA BR CIS-SMITH
SECRETARY OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


After the order was published online, GovTrack.us founder Josh Tauberer issued a series of critical tweets and extended his thoughts into a blog post, holding that DC city government adopted the mistakes made by the White House:

There is a strong American tradition — or at least a core American value — that the government does not get in the way of the dissemination of ideas. We don’t always live up to that ideal, but we strive for it. Access to information about the government that comes with restrictions on what we can say when we use it (e.g. attribution & explanation), a waiver of rights or a commitment to indemnify, etc. are all an anathema to accountability and transparency and respect for the public.

[REPORT] On data journalism, democracy, open government and press freedom

On May 30, I gave a keynote talk on my research on the art and science of data journalism at the first Tow Center research conference at Columbia Journalism School in New York City. I’ve embedded the video below:

My presentation is embedded below, if you want to follow along or visit the sites and services I described.

Here’s an observation drawn from an extensive section on open government that should be of interest to readers of this blog:

“Proactive, selective open data initiatives by government focused on services that are not balanced by support for press freedoms and improved access can fairly be criticized as “openwashing” or “fauxpen government.”

Data journalists who are frequently faced with heavily redacted document releases or reams of blurry PDFs are particularly well placed to make those critiques.”

My contribution was only one part of the proceedings for “Quantifying Journalism: Metrics, Data and Computation,” which you can catch up through the Tow Center’s live blog or TechPresident’s coverage of measuring the impact of journalism.

Obama administration announces new initiatives to release and apply open energy data

As part of today’s Energy DataPalooza, the White House published a blog post and fact sheet that detailed new initiatives and data releases. Here’s the rundown, all quoted right from the document:

  • The Department of Energy announced that its Buildings Performance Database has exceeded a milestone of 750,000 building records, making it the world’s largest public database of real buildings’ energy performance information.
  • The Energy Department launched a SunShot Catalyst prize challenge
  • The Department of Energy launched a National Geothermal Data System, a “resource that contains enough raw geoscience data to pinpoint elusive sweet spots of geothermal energy deep in the earth, enabling researchers and commercial developers to find the most promising areas for geothermal energy. Access to this data will reduce costs and risks of geothermal electricity production and, in turn, accelerate its deployment.
  • The Department of Energy released a study “which identified 65-85 gigawatts of untapped hydropower potential in the United States. Accompanying the release of this report, Oak Ridge National Laboratory has released detailed data resulting from this study.”
  • Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz announced that WattBuddy won the Department of Energy’s “Apps for Energy” contest, the second part of its year-long American Energy Data Challenge.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the AVoided Emissions and geneRation Tool (AVERT), “a free software tool designed to help state and local air quality planners evaluate county-level emissions displaced at electric power plants by efficiency and renewable energy policies and programs.”
  • 7 new utilities and state-wide energy efficiency programs adopted the Green Button standard, including Seattle City Light, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Green Mountain Power,  Wake Electric, Hawaiian Electric Company, Maui Electric Company, Hawai’i Electric Light Company, and Hawaii Energy.
  • Pivotal Labs collaborated with NIST and EnergyOS to create OpenESPI, an open source implementation of the Green Button standard.
  • 7 electric utilities “agreed to the development and use of a voluntary open standard for the publishing of power outage and restoration information.  The commitment of utilities to publish their already public outage information as a structured data in an easy-to-use and common format, in a consistent location, will make it easier for a wide set of interested parties—including first responders, public health officials, utility operations and mutual assistance efforts, and the public at large—to make use of and act upon this important information, especially during times of natural disaster or crisis.” iFactor Consulting will support it and, notably, Google will use the data in its Crisis Maps.
  • Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington D.C. will use the Department of Energy’s open source Standard Energy Efficiency Data (SEED) platform to publish data collected through benchmarking disclosure of building energy efficiency.

U.S. publishes new “Open Data Action Plan,” announces new data releases

On the one year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s historic executive order to open up more government data, U.S. chief information officer Steven VanRoekel and U.S. chief technology officer Todd Park described “continued progress and plans for open government data” at the WhiteHouse.gov blog:

Freely available data from the U.S. government is an important national resource, serving as fuel for entrepreneurship, innovation, scientific discovery, and economic growth. Making information about government operations more readily available and useful is also core to the promise of a more efficient and transparent government. This initiative is a key component of the President’s Management Agenda and our efforts to ensure the government is acting as an engine to expand economic growth and opportunity for all Americans. The Administration is committed to driving further progress in this area, including by designating Open Data as one of our key Cross-Agency Priority Goals.

Over the past few years, the Administration has launched a number of Open Data Initiatives aimed at scaling up open data efforts across the Health, Energy, Climate, Education, Finance, Public Safety, and Global Development sectors. The White House has also launched Project Open Data, designed to share best practices, examples, and software code to assist federal agencies with opening data. These efforts have helped unlock troves of valuable data—that taxpayers have already paid for—and are making these resources more open and accessible to innovators and the public.

Other countries are also opening up their data. In June 2013, President Obama and other G7 leaders endorsed the Open Data Charter, in which the United States committed to publish a roadmap for our nation’s approach to releasing and improving government data for the public. Building upon the Administration’s Open Data progress, and in fulfillment of the Open Data Charter, today we are excited to release the U.S. Open Data Action Plan.

The new Open Data Action Plan (which was, ironically, released as a glossy PDF*, as opposed to a more machine-readable format) details a number of significant steps, including:

  • Many releases of new data and improved access to existing databases. These include more climate data, adding an API to Smithsonian artwork and the Small Business Administration’s database of suppliers and making data available for re-use. *Late in the day, with a “thanks to the open data community for their vigilance,” The White House posted the list of “high value data sets” in the plan as a .CSV.
  • A roadmap with deadlines for the release of these datasets over the course of 2014-2015. Some data releases are already online, like Medicare physician payment data. I’ve created an online spreadsheet that should act as a dashboard for U.S. National Open Data Action Plan Deadlines.
  • A policy that “new data sets will be prioritized for release based on public feedback.
  • New open data projects at federal agencies, each of which will be led by a Presidential Innovation Fellow. According to the plan, the agencies will include NOAA, the Census Bureau, NASA, IRS, Interior, Labor, Energy and HHS.

Compliance with the executive order on open data has been mixed, as the Sunlight Foundation detailed last December. While all executive branch agencies were required to develop a machine-readable catalog of their open data at [department].gov/data.json  and stand up /developer pages, it took until February 2014 for all Cabinet agencies to publish their open data inventories. (The government shutdown was a factor in the delay.)

The federal government’s progress on this open data action plan is likely to be similar, much as it has been for the past five years under the Obama administration: variable across agencies, with delays in publishing, issues in quality and carve outs for national security, particularly with respect to defense and intelligence agencies. That said, progress is progress: many of the open data releases detailed in the plan have already occurred.

If the American people, press, Congress and public worldwide wish to see whether the administration is following through on some of its transparency promises, they can do so by visiting agency websites and the federal open data repository, Data.gov, which will celebrate its fifth anniversary next week.

Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg is fond of quoting William Edwards Deming: “In God we trust. All others bring data.” Given historic lows in trust in government, the only way the Obama administration will make progress on that front is if they actually release more of it.

[Image Credit: Eric Fischer/Flickr]

From broadband maps to Data.gov, WordPress looks to power more open source government

I had a blast interviewing Matt Mullenweg, the co-creator of WordPress and CEO of Automattic, last night at the inaugural WordPress and government meetup in DC. UPDATE: Video of our interview and the Q&A that followed is embedded below:

WordPress code powers some 60 million websites, including 22% of the top 10 million sites on the planet and .gov platforms like Broadbandmap.gov. Mullenweg was, by turns, thoughtful, geeky and honest about open source and giving hundreds of millions of people free tools to express themselves, along with quietly principled,  with respect to the corporate values for an organization spread between 35 countries, government censorship and the ethics of transparency.

After Mullenweg finished taking questions from the meetup, Data.gov architect Philip Ashlock gave a presentation on how the staff working on the federal government’s open data platform are using open source software to design, build, publish and collaborate, from WordPress to CKAN to Github issue tracking.