Two takes on the White House’s open government, open data progress

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Editor’s note: Since publication, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has released its 2016 open government plan. 

The White House released a progress report Tuesday on its third Open Government National Action Plan — a snapshot of ongoing and completed work on many initiatives improving digital services or open data.

Two experts told FedScoop that while the report shows progress on many of the 45 open government initiatives, they cautioned that some aspects of the report did not tell the whole story or lacked future action steps that would really move the ball forward.

The progress made should be applauded but also critically examined, as the progress report is a self-assessment, Alexander Howard, senior analyst at the Sunlight Foundation, told FedScoop.

“I think that there’s evidence of substantial progress on the commitments,” Howard said. “And I think that there’s evidence that people in the last year of the administration have taken the president’s metaphor about the fourth quarter to heart and have been working hard to get as much done as they can knowing that their opportunity to do so in government is dwindling.”

He pointed to one discrepancy in the report: missing agency open government plans, which the Office of Management and Budget said should be posted by Sept. 15.

The progress report lists the publication of those plans as a completed goal.

“Unfortunately, calling that commitment completed is disingenuous at best,” Howard said, noting that some agencies didn’t put up their plans by the White House deadline.

The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, one of the lead agencies behind the action plan, hadn’t posted its own 2016 plan as of publication.

“How can they possibly claim that they’re done tracking this, if they can’t do it themselves?” Howard said.

Read Holman, a policy advisor at OSTP, told FedScoop, “The report is in the final stages of being processed and we look forward to releasing it soon.”

The progress report also addresses government efforts to improve USA.gov and reconstitute it “as the front door to the U.S. government.”

According to the White House’s self-assessment, the USA.gov site has seen “substantial work,” on a work-completed scale of not started, limited, substantial and completed. As a part of the ongoing efforts, the General Services Administration is working on integrating information and services from Business.USA.gov into USA.gov to avoid duplication across government sites, the assessment said.

Right now, user experience designers and content writers are doing user testing, the report notes, and a team is starting to evaluate and improve the USA.gov landing page design and content.

Other projects haven’t made quite as much progress.

Creating a consolidated listing of every U.S. address has been “limited,” according to the report.

A challenge “to develop a crowdsourced app to collect data from state and local governments, developing a process to verify that data, and including the data in the National Address Database” is still in the works.

[Read more: Heads up, developers: DOT wants an address crowdsourcing app]

Joshua New, policy analyst for the Center for Data Innovation, said of the progress report, “There’s so many examples of them doing good things and doing them well.”

But he noted some areas could have used additional action, such as incentivizing participation in the police data initiative to make sure it lasts into the next administration.

“Come a new administration or come whatever… basically commitments to the police data initiative are non-binding,” New said.

The progress report says the initiative has made substantial progress, and noted government will work to continue expanding the initiative.

New suggested that the administration could restrict some types of funding on condition of future participation.

“They talked about how they’re continuing to expand the police data initiative; we’d basically like to see it have some teeth,” he said.

He added: “Short of Congress passing a bill saying all police departments have to do this, this is a good way to actually take some action here. Because I don’t think that’s something Congress would do.”

Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., introduced a bill last year that would require all states to report data on officer-involved shootings and uses of force resulting in serious injury or death to the Justice Department.

The White House announced several expanded and new commitments in conjunction with the progress report’s release.

[Read more: White House expanding open data initiatives]

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data analytics, Government IT News, open data, open government, Tech, White House
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