Civil Society Report on Implementation of the First US National Action Plan
March 12, 2013
Two years ago, in early 2011, the Obama Administration held its first convening on the Open Government Partnership (OGP), which has grown into a vibrant multi-national mix of governments, civil society organizations, academics, and others. Those engaged in the OGP experiment are all focused on making participating governments more open, collaborative with civil society, and participative for the public. These goals are expressed in each country’s National Action Plan (Plan). The OpenTheGovernment.org (OTG) coalition has played key roles from the outset in the US government’s development of its Plan: first in pushing the Administration to go beyond repackaging its existing activities and instead, to consider policy priorities developed by more than 20 civil society organizations; second, in coordinating the efforts of a wide and diverse range of civil society organizations (and affiliated individuals and academics) to share policy ideas with the Administration, to make recommendations to the government on the implementation of its Plan, and to meet with government officials on each of the commitments evaluated here; and third, the effort you see in this Report – in assessing the progress made by the government both on the letter of its commitments as well as on civil society’s recommendations for achieving the goals underlying those specific items. The goals established by the first Plan are noteworthy, commendably reflecting a number of our community’s policy goals, and are a clear sign that the Administration understands the broad range of issues that must be tackled before we can achieve the greater goal of transforming government to be open and accountable to the public. Several critical issues, most notably those surrounding national security and campaign finance reform, are not addressed, however. This National Action Plan was only a first installment on the work needed. As this report finds, although the government met most of its particular commitments, progress toward even its own interim goals has been far less dramatic and even halting in some respects. Indeed, regrettably, the specific commitments included in the plan do not put the US on a path to accomplish those goals quickly. Some of the commitments in the Plan only constituted repackaging of existing activities and promises to do something that was already done or about to be done. Achieving the bold vision of open and accountable government envisioned by the Partnership and embraced by President Obama requires ambitious commitments in future iterations. The US government must be willing to think big, and, rather than promising only baby steps, to commit to bold transformative strides. For our part, we will push future Plans to address critical issues that are not yet on the table, and will continue to urge progress in the areas of government spending transparency, transformation of the classification system, proactive disclosure, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and ethics disclosure, around which our community has already built a consensus, and to work with our civil society colleagues and government to implement the concrete steps that must be taken in these areas. As the community of civil society organizations engaging on the OGP expands, our coalition will continue to create new openness communities around refreshed and expanded ideas for advancing government openness and accountability. And we and our civil society colleagues will work with the Administration on Plans 2, 3, and 4 – and push them to do more and better. We understand the work is hard for everyone involved, but the goal is worth it. Our special thanks go to Amy Bennett, John Bertot, Wayne Moses Burke, and Abby Paulson for all their work on this initiative and this report. Thank you for your engagement and support!
Danielle Brian Executive Director, Project On Government Oversight Chair, OpenTheGovernment.org Steering Committee<