September 20th marks the one-year anniversary of the launch of the global Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the release of the U.S. National Action Plan detailing the Obama administration's commitments to strengthen transparency in the federal government. The partnership and the administration's implementation efforts have both made significant progress toward their goal of more open and responsive governments in the U.S. and worldwide.
President Obama planted the seeds of the partnership in September 2010 when he called on countries around the world to make "specific commitments to promote transparency." The Open Government Partnership initiative was introduced to the world in July 2011 and formally launched in September 2011. It will host an anniversary event on Sept. 26 in New York.
Through OGP, partner countries agree to develop plans to strengthen open government in their nations and endorse a joint Open Government Declaration. OGP's membership now stands at an impressive 57 countries.
Status of U.S. commitments
The U.S. plan committed to 26 specific open government reforms, ranging from improvements in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and declassification to increased spending transparency and public participation. The administration was expected to release a self-assessment of the plan's implementation after one year, but officials now say it will be released in early 2013. However, OpenTheGovernment.org today published an independent progress report.
Disclosure: OMB Watch is a member of the OpenTheGovernment.org coalition and contributed to the report.
The report shows that the administration has delivered on several key commitments and is in the process of implementing others. However, on some commitments, there has been little visible progress to date.
For instance, following up on the plan's commitment to modernize policies for managing government records, President Obama issued a well received memorandum in November 2011, which was followed by a directive with specific requirements in August.
To implement the commitment to reform government websites, the administration released its Digital Government Strategy in May. Under the strategy, OMB is due to update the seven-year-old memo governing federal websites by November.
Progress in other areas is wanting. For example, the plan promised that agencies would provide more information on their regulatory compliance and enforcement activities, as originally called for in a January 2011 memorandum. But few agencies have published their plans for doing so.
The new international partnership has also made progress in supporting the development and sustainable implementation of open government reforms around the world. In August, OGP published and sought comment on a draft strategic plan for the partnership, which will outline goals to guide the partnership's future work. In addition, OGP is in the process of standing up an independent review mechanism to supervise the evaluation of country action plans. The partnership has already surveyed governments and civil society on the status of implementation efforts and the effectiveness of the partnership.
Government and civil society participants are engaging with the partnership in new ways—a sign of the initiative's relevance. For instance, European participants have organized a regional meeting in October to share ideas, and meetings in other parts of the world are being planned.
The one-year anniversary of the plan's launch is a good opportunity for the administration to capitalize on the intiative’s momentum by releasing a plan to complete implementation of the remaining commitments by the time it publishes its self-assessment early next year.
After implementing their initial plans, countries are expected to develop a new round of plans to ratchet up their open government practices even more. The second round of plans will account for the progress that has been made and incorporate lessons learned from the first round. We hope the next U.S. plan will provide more detail about the government’s commitments and how they will be realized.
An analysis of country plans conducted by Global Integrity found that the U.S. plan shared a shortcoming common to several other countries: its commitments were not measurable and did not include specific timelines. Some countries are already rewriting their plans to address this criticism: Mexico released an updated plan in August, adding specific compliance dates for each commitment. By following the same approach, the U.S. could strengthen its implementation efforts.