President Barack Obama’s call today to the U.N. General Assembly to “harness the power of open societies” was a welcome follow-up to the administration’s open government action plan released this week. That plan, hailed by open government advocates, detailed a strong U.S. commitment to leading an international movement toward greater government transparency, accountability, and citizen participation.
After a flurry of announcements in recent days, including the release of a White House status report showing substantial progress on its open government initiatives, the administration should now seize momentum and goodwill and implement its initiatives quickly.
The Center for American Progress has pushed for better implementation of the president’s Freedom of Information Act memorandum and Open Government directive, and in hastening the national security bureaucracy toward the administration’s transparency framework. The federal government should direct all agencies to adopt and implement a “release to one is a release to all” policy under FOIA, so that records designated as “public” are truly accessible to the entire public through the Internet.
Another immediate move the administration can and should do, according to openthegovernment.org, a coalition of transparency advocates, is to task the White House Chief Information Officers Council with developing standards to preserve and manage electronic records.
The administration should also consider adopting recommendations by the Project on Government Oversight to issue an executive order on whistleblower protections and create a presidential advisory committee on open government, to ensure the continued partnership between government officials and outside groups.
The administration’s ambitious 18-point action plan, if followed, will establish the United States as a catalyst in the global trend toward more open and accountable governments. Among the initiatives announced this week that are particularly promising are a “We the People” petition platform, planned expansions of whistleblower protections, and a multiagency effort to expand and expedite declassification of historically secret documents.
Open government is good for its own sake. As the president noted in his speech today, it’s also a potent tool for rooting out the “cancer of corruption” that impedes democratic progress around the world.
And when governments are transparent and accountable to their citizens, they earn the public’s trust—a trust that today is sorely lacking and leads to a cynicism and apathy that can be dangerous.
Governments around the world must daily aim to restore public trust. The current U.S. government is well positioned to continue leading by example.
Gadi Dechter is Associate Director of Government Reform at American Progress.