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Transparency Advocates React to U.S. Open Government Action Plan

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, September 20 2011

President Barack Obama on Tuesday led the public unveiling of national open government action plans from the eight countries participating in the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral coalition on openness and transparency.

"Put simply, our countries are stronger when we engage citizens beyond the halls of government," Obama said at an event held at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

The White House is advancing commitments around online disclosures for extractive industries, increased whistleblower protections, and the upcoming launch of an online e-petitioning platform as the highlights of its plan. But the U.S.' open government commitments were one set among many, which included promises to expand the use of participatory budgeting, in which citizens gain a direct role in deciding how to spend discretionary funding (from the Phillipines); public reporting of felony crime (in Mexico); and strengthening the role of women in government, the economy and civic life (from Norway).

Open government watchdogs have responded to the U.S. plan with optimism. In a blog post, OMBWatch called the plan "bold" and "ambitious."

"The Administration, in a relatively short-time frame, crafted an agenda for its open government work that is impressive in its scope and breadth. We are pleased to see the plan includes several items of high-priority to the open government community, and look forward to working with the White House and others to ensure the promise becomes a reality," OpenTheGovernment.org quoted its founder Patrice McDermott as saying on its website.

McDermott also called for the process of opening the government to be more, well, open, reiterating her call for a presidential advisory committee on the subject.

John Wonderlich, from the Sunlight Foundation*, wrote to me in an email that he thought the plan was more ambitious than he had initially hoped — but cautioned that how the White House makes good on its promises, which also included a pledge to professionalize the group responsible for processing Freedom of Information Act Requests, remains to be seen.

In short, advocates are satisfied with the administration's work — for now. One advocate at an OGP event at Google on Tuesday told me that the focus for the day would be applauding what the White House has done — with a mind to returning to nudging it again later.

"Let them have their day," this person said.

(Personal Democracy Forum's Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej are senior advisers to the Sunlight Foundation.)

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