Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Open Government Directive -- maybe some things can change

President Obama appointed Vivek Kundra Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) earlier this year. Kundra had been Chief Technology Officer for Washington DC, and espoused a strong "Web 2.0" vision for citizen participation, government transparency and cloud services, but he was surprisingly inexperienced. John Dvorak, a respected technical journalist, looked into Kundra's education and background and questioned his qualification to manage 71,000 IT workers and 10,000 IT systems -- asking whether Kundra is a phony.

InformationWeek, a trade publication for IT managers, just named Kundra CIO of the year, emphasizing his vision more than listing his achievements.

On December 8, we saw what may be a major step toward implementing Kundra's transparent government vision -- issuing the Open Government Directive. (You can see Kundra in the announcement video). The directive orders Federal agencies to:

  • publish government information online
  • improve the quality of government information
  • create and institutionalize a culture of open government
And they are to start immediately -- each agency is required to
  • identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value databases within 45 days
  • create an open government Web page within 60 days
  • develop and publish an open government plan stating how it will improve transparency and integrate public participation and collaboration into its activities within 120 days
This activity will be tracked in an open government "dashboard" with statistics and visualizations showing how each agency is doing with respect to openness. The dashboard is to be on the Web within 60 days.

It is noteworthy that they are not talking about PDF copies of reports, but publishing data in machine readable form so it can be analyzed and summarized by others -- journalists, scholars, business people, politicians, etc.

This sounds real. The Sunlight Foundation, which has led the movement to use the Internet for government transparency, is optimistic. (You can hear more in this interview of their policy director, John Wonderlich, who sees this as "a real commitment to systemic change within the government").

It will be interesting to see how things look after those 45-120 day deadlines have passed -- we can check the Open Government Dashboard.

Perhaps Kundra's inexperience has an upside -- he may be too naive to understand that getting government bureaucracies to publish data and listen to the public is "impossible."


  1. Anonymous10:59 AM

    Maybe he does not know how how hard this has been. His naivete might be a blessing.
    But if all he is trying to do is "publish" data, it really is not that hard, eh?

  2. I think the cultural change is harder than the technical challenge.

    Also -- they (and some congressional staffers) understand things like XML and RSS feeds. This data could end up being a platform for analysis, visualization, event flagging, etc., which might make a meaningful contribution to the political process and the economy.

    On the other hand, it might peter out as a PR moment. Let's hope the cup is half full.