Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Obama Gets His Agencies' Plans for Participation

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, April 9 2010

Credit: U.S. Department of Treasury

So the Navy Seals, it seems, are quite eager to both mix it up with fans and connect with potential future-Seals on Facebook. The State Department considers its HumanRights.gov the exciting planting of a virtual flag on the world stage. And the Department of Transportation sees great promise in webcasting; expect to see much, much more live video streaming from the direction of the Transportation Department in the months and years ahead. Those are some of the initiatives identified in the nearly 30 open government plans submitted by federal agencies this Wednesday, in response to the White House's Open Government Directive issue four months ago.

Now, you may have noticed that data and data transparency have, arguably, held center stage in the open government world lately. But President Obama, in his Open Government Directive, called on the diverse two-dozen-plus federal agencies under his purview to do more than simply open up their data (no matter how incredibly important that might be). It also pushed the executive branch to draw more people into their missions -- both normal American citizens and their colleagues in government. The excutive branches excursions into interactivity are arguably more difficult to measure than data success. But you can make the case that throwing open the doors to public participation would be just as transformative, if not more so, when it comes to changing the culture of how government works. Either way, as the photo work taken from the cover of the Treasury Department's Open Government Plan attests, pillars two and three of the Obama vision for opening up government are, indeed, participation and collaboration.

So, with that, let's do a quick dip into the open government plans filed this week while taking special note of the the wide-ranging experiments and investments in participation and collaboration that the federal agencies promised the President this week that they have lined up.

The Justice Department plans to build a "FOIA dashboard" as its flagship Open Government Initiative. "The Dashboard will allow the public to generate statistics on FOIA compliance across the government and from year to year." The impact is meant to be not only external, but internal. "Not only will this visual report card promote transparency," reads the report, "it should also have the effect of encouraging the Department’s FOIA offices -- and FOIA offices across the government -- to improve their compliance efforts and release as much information to the public under FOIA as possible." DOJ also reports that they'll be preemptively posting more of the source documents behind the government's court filings; they'd appreciate the public let them know which cases in particular might be helpful. ThatsNotCool.com is a new website that asks teens, "Where do you draw the digital line?"

The Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs are teaming up on the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record initiative."VLER will enable Veterans to have a seamless transition from active duty to Veteran with a single file, easily transferred from one agency to another." Later this year, DOD will roll out a new web system that will allow the public to easily request fly-overs and military music performances at public events.

The Department of Energy is proud of its launch this winter of the Open Energy Information initiative, also known as Open EI. "The wiki‐platform enables the sharing of resources by government officials, the private sector, project developers, the international community and others," they report. The Department of the Interior is putting its focus on developing a clearinghouse of information on climate change. DOI also reports that having gotten a taste of IdeaScale during the open government plan drafting promise, they want more: "As DOI’s Open Government Plan evolves, the Department looks forward to incorporating similar citizen engagement tools to foster public feedback and participation on areas of importance to citizens." They're looking for a common platform for public engagement that can be used across Interior's bureaus. They'd also like an intranet to use in-house. They said that that will be launched within the next three months.

EPA is tweeting. Administration Lisa Jackson also posts her meeting calendar on EPA.gov/Lisa. "These actions," reads the report, "not only open EPA to the public, they give EPA staff at all levels of the organization insight into their senior leadership. This helps all EPA staff stay connected to the mission."

The Social Security Administration will launch a version of its popular retirement calculator in Spanish.

The USDA finds inspiration for its open government outreach in both Thomas Jefferson and Helen Keller. "We think in America that it is necessary to introduce the people into every department of government as far as they are capable of exercising it, and that this is the only way to insure a long-continued and honest administration of its powers," said the former. And said the latter: "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." USDA is launching a Health Kids Challenge. And the Forest Service is on Twitter.

In addition to gearing up HumanRights.gov "to further this vital human rights agenda," the State Department reports that it intends to increase its targeted use of Twitter by 30% by 2011.

The Department of Health and Human Services is working on a new "Community of Practice" that will allow open government innovators from within the department to share best practices, in the hopes of creating a workplace menu of effective participation and collaboration tools and techniques. The FDA has launched FDA-TRACK: "When fully implemented, FDA-TRACK will monitor over 90 FDA program offices through key performance measures that will be gathered on a monthly basis." FDA reports that its FDA Basics site, explaining the nuts and bolts of the agency, has found favor with bloggers.

The Treasury Department is working towards becoming a "Paperless Treasury," designed to "improve the public's experience interacting with Treasury while effecting operational efficiencies of several key Treasury activities."

The Department of Homeland Security is focusing its eyes on its Virtual USA project, "a technical system and operational guidelines to share incident response information through existing systems and geospatial platforms in partnership with local, state, tribal and federal officials as well as the vendor community."

And the Department of Labor is looking internally, eager to rethink not only the "expectations of government, but the expectations within government." To that end, they're interested in a "direct messaging" model that will connect the department both horizontally and vertically; tools shall include Dear Colleagues letters from the Secretary, all-employee web casts, and FRANCES, their employee "E-Magazine." In May, the Department of Labor will roll out a blog. In September, it will introduce the "Secretary's Award for Open Government."

That's just a taste. All the plans are available through links on the White House's Open Government Dashboard.

News Briefs

RSS Feed wednesday >

Another Co-Opted Hashtag: #MustSeeIran

The Twitter hashtag #MustSeeIran was created to showcase Iran's architecture, landscapes, and would-be tourist destinations. It was then co-opted by activists to bring attention to human rights abuses and infringements. Now Twitter is home to two starkly different portraits of a country. GO

What Has the EU Ever Done For Us?: Countering Euroskepticism with Viral Videos and Monty Python

Ahead of the May 25 European Elections, the most intense campaigning may not be by the candidates or the political parties. Instead, some of the most passionate campaigns are more grassroots efforts focused on for a start stirring up the interest of the European electorate. GO

At NETmundial Brazil: Is "Multistakeholderism" Good for the Internet?

Today and tomorrow Brazil is hosting NETmundial, a global multi-stakeholder meeting on the future of Internet governance. GO

Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.

GO

tuesday >

Ruck.us Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like Democracy.com

Ruck.us launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new Ruck.us is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and Democracy.com. And strangely enough, Ruck.us seems to want its early users to ask Democracy.com for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.

GO

monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.

GO

The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.

GO

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

More