Open Government, a citizen's excitement
by Robert Douglass
How refreshing it is when the US Government does something so right that my chest swells with pride and my heart fills with hope! How exciting it is that Drupal and Acquia can play a role in bringing openness to government. I'm referring to the Open Government Directive (OGD), an instruction from the President of the United States to all federal agencies to drastically change the way that government talks to and shares information with the public.
The OGD is predicated on three principles: transparancy, participation, and collaboration. Here I quote from the President's website:
Transparency promotes accountability by providing the public with information about what the Government is doing. Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise so that their government can make policies with the benefit of information that is widely dispersed in society. Collaboration improves the effectiveness of Government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the Federal Government, across levels of government, and between the Government and private institutions.
On top of these principles is a clarification of the baseline position that government agencies are to adopt, in particluar regarding the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Government agencies are instructed to presume openess and disclosure.
These instructions also come with teeth. There are concrete steps to be taken, and deadlines. Hard deadlines that are coming up fast. Each agency was given 45 days to identify three sets of data that had never been released before, and to make them available on Data.gov. In the same time agencies are to appoint a highlevel senior official to oversee the "quality and objectivity of, and internal controls over, the Federal spending information publicly disseminated through such public venues as USAspending.gov or other similar websites." Those are big changes in a short time.
Within 60 days, agencies are to go even further, and launch portals on their websites, http://www.[agency].gov/open, which will keep the public informed of all their activity and efforts pertaining to the OGD. This also pertains to information and policies regarding the FOIA. There are also 60 and 120 day deadlines for the communication of frameworks for making Open Government systemic to the very DNA of government agencies. Changes include a "longer-term comprehensive strategy for Federal spending transparency".
One particular goal, to be met in the first 45 days, summarizes the attitude towards technology and public participation:
[provide] a forum to share best practices on innovative ideas to promote participation and collaboration, including how to experiment with new technologies, take advantage of the expertise and insight of people both inside and outside the Federal Government, and form high-impact collaborations with researchers, the private sector, and civil society.
This is essentially saying that the government wants to collaborate with the public on the difficult issues facing us, and that modern technologies and tools (such as Drupal's social publishing and collaboration tools) should be used where appropriate if they further the goal of fostering collaboration.
All of this is like fresh air. I work with open source software specifically because I believe in the value of transparancy, participation, and collaboration. The Drupal project is a shining example of what humans can achieve when they work together in this way. I am also thrilled that Acquia is already deeply involved in helping government agencies realize these goals, and that the tool that many are looking to as an Open Government Directive enabler, is Drupal. Acquia has a new Government JumpStart program, a whitepaper on Social Publising for Government, and an exciting partnership with Carahsoft to guarantee that we can meet the urgent needs of agencies in the throes of change.