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Project on Government Oversight
 

 

 

 

Agencies Demonstrate Progress with Revisions to Open Government Plans

July 20, 2010 

 

An updated ranking of agencies' Open Government Plans compiled during an independent audit by POGO and other partners organized by OpenTheGovernment.org reveals that 10 agencies joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the list of strongest Plans, due to new Plan versions created since the initial releases on April 7. The updated Plans also decrease the wide variation in the strength of Plans noted earlier this year. The response by so many agencies is very encouraging and truly in the spirit of the Open Government Directive.

"It's great to see so many agencies making improvements to their open government plans," said POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian. "It's time to set our sights on implementation and continue to raise the bar for openness in government."

The Obama administration's December 8, 2009, Open Government Directive (OGD) required executive agencies to develop and post Open Government Plans by April 7, 2010.  This deadline was met, but an independent audit—organized by OpenTheGovernment.org and conducted by POGO and others from organizations that serve the public interest—found that many of the original Open Government Plans failed to fulfill the basic requirements outlined in the OGD.

The initial results of the audit did not include evaluations of the Plans produced by several agencies that were not required to do so by the Obama Administration. Other entities also produced Open Government Plans, but they did not have enough substance to fully evaluate the plans. Evaluators provided each agency with feedback on their plans and committed to re-evaluating any plan that was updated by a June 25 deadline.

In the true spirit of the OGD, twenty-three of 39 federal agencies evaluated during the audit issued revised plans by the June deadline. The revised plans were assessed using the same evaluation form as was used in the original audit. These forms rate the extent to which agencies meet the administration's standards as spelled out in the OGD and provide bonus points for exceeding the requirements. If an agency satisfied all requirements for Open Government Plans set forth in the OGD—and it did not earn any bonus points—it would receive a score of 60 on its evaluation.

POGO evaluated the updated Open Government Plans of the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Energy (DOE), and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), as well as the initial release of the Merit Systems Protection Board's (MSPB) Plan.

DoD managed to improve its score from a 40 to a 53. One significant improvement was setting specific dates for agency actions, and setting goals to release additional high value data sets. The DoD could strengthen its Plan if it provided the public with opportunities to participate in core mission activities that specifically deal with accountability, such as weapons testing and contracting.

DOE earned a score of 43, improving on its original score of 31. DOE improved its Plan by providing details on how it processes Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and by taking first steps to identify its stakeholders. The Department could strengthen its Plan by indicating what changes it intends to make to its internal management and administrative policies. DOE should be commended for continuing to revise and improve upon its Plan after the deadline set by evaluators.

The NRC has improved upon an already strong Plan with its latest revision, bumping its score up from a 56 to a 59. As the Commission moves forward, POGO hopes the NRC will continue to build on the strong groundwork that it has established. POGO was pleased to see that Commissioner William Magwood has joined Chairman Gregory Jaczko in publishing his events and meetings online—it's now time for the other three commissioners and other top officials to get on board with this idea.

As an agency that was not technically required to create an Open Government Plan, MSPB should be commended for voluntarily doing so. The MSPB Plan included several strong first steps towards openness, such as stating the goal of soliciting more amicus briefs and holding more oral hearings. MSPB could strengthen its Plan by providing additional details about these initiatives. MSPB earned a score of 47 for its Plan.

Although not all agencies with the strongest plans meet all of the OGD requirements, almost a dozen agencies produced plans that serve as models by going beyond the OGD requirements in important ways. Health and Human Services (HHS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Transportation (DOT), for example, should be particularly applauded for fully meeting all of the OGD requirements, and earning bonus points.

The lowest scores went to agencies that have not updated their plans since their initial publication.

The coalition of evaluators views the plans and the audits as the beginning first steps of an ongoing process to make government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative, and applauds agencies for continuing to work to improve and strengthen the implementation of the OGD. The level of collaboration between agencies and evaluators has been extremely encouraging thus far, and POGO hopes that agencies will continue to work with evaluators as they move to implement their open government initiatives. Currently, the coalition is developing metrics to evaluate how agencies are implementing open government. While the evaluators have not set a date for the next evaluation, almost all agencies are still accepting public feedback on the proposals. We encourage you to visit the agencies' "/open" webpages to participate.

For a full updated list of how the agencies' plans rank, click here: http://bit.ly/NewOGovRank

For the full results of the audit and links to agency evaluations, click here: http://bit.ly/OGovEvals

Evaluators:  American Association of Law Libraries, American Library Association, Center for Democracy and Technology, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, OMB Watch, OpenTheGovernment.org, Project on Government Oversight, Union of Concerned Scientists, faculty and students at the University of Maryland College of Information Studies, and volunteers, Nick Keune, Giovanni Piazza, Ted Smith, and Charlotte Yee.


Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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