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An Open Government Paradigm Being Built Behind Closed Doors

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, May 12 2009

This whole thing is something like a leather-bound edition of Diet for a Small Planet. Holding an AA meeting at a bar. Passing around a charity box at an Objectivist conference. The Obama Administration's process for crafting the mandated open government directive is happening largely behind closed doors. The objections of transparency advocates are most likely amplified somewhat by personal pique at being cut out of the process, but as a procedural matter it's a funny way to demonstrate the virtues of open government. Politico's Josh Gerstein has details, as does NextGov's Aliya Sternstein. Sternstein reports that new CTO Aneesh Chopra will be delivering only the rough outlines of a directive to the president by the May 21st deadline set up in Obama's presidential memo. Gerstein's coverage seems to confirm that. He has the Office of Science and Technology Policy saying that what will pop out of that office eventually will be a process, not a product.

Internally, a major sticking point seems to be debate over how to get the myriad agencies and departments in the federal universe to adhere to President Obama's dictates on the triad of transparency, participation, and collaboration. The OSTP approach here seems to be to iron out those major structural decisions behind closed doors before inviting a second round of public engagement. Of course, that's the holy grail of participatory democracy: figuring out how to let people make meaningful, game-changing decisions, rather than consigning them to piddling about the edges of an opaque bureaucracy.