Audit Shows Wide Variation in Agency Open Government Plans
NASA, HUD, EPA Produce Strong Plans While Justice and OMB Plans Disappoint
Washington, DC — A ranking of agencies’ Open Government Plans compiled in an independent audit reveals the strongest and weakest agency plans, with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at the top of the list and the Department of Justice (DOJ) at the bottom. Significantly, the audit found that key agencies assigned to oversee government openness efforts, particularly the President’s own Office of Management & Budget and DOJ, failed to produce strong Open Government Plans themselves.
The audit was organized by OpenTheGovernment.org and conducted by volunteers from nonprofit public interest groups, including Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which have experience working with the agencies and evaluating their information policies.
The Obama administration’s December 8, 2009, Open Government Directive (OGD) required executive agencies to develop and post Open Government Plans by April 7, 2010. The OGD specified elements related to transparency, participation, and collaboration that must be included in the plans. The audit rated the extent to which agencies met the administration’s standards as spelled out in the OGD and allowed bonus points for actions that went beyond the OGD minimum. The audit found:
- NASA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency created plans that serve as models for other agencies by going beyond all the OGD requirements; .
- The five lowest scores went to the Department of Treasury, Department of Defense, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Department of Energy, and the Department of Justice.
The extremely low ranking for the plan developed by OMB is particularly noteworthy since OMB has responsibility for overseeing other agencies’ implementation of the OGD. Similarly, DOJ’s ranking at the bottom of the stack is disquieting given its charge to implement the Freedom of Information Act, a key public access law.
Last week, the White House issued its own evaluation of agency plans which concluded that:
“Only three of the cabinet and other key agencies won a green flag for across-the-board excellence. All the others – including our own offices of OSTP [Office of Science & Technology Policy] and OMB – have more work to do before the Plan fully satisfies every requirement in the Directive.”
In some instances, the White House evaluations differ significantly from evaluations released today by the watch-dog groups, in part due to the non-governmental organizations awarding of bonus points. Many of the weaknesses pinpointed in these evaluations are easily correctible if the agencies choose to refine their plans and seek a goal of greater transparency.
“One presidential directive will not open up government or change secretive cultures or encourage agencies to publicly admit mistakes, as if this directive flips a light switch,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is advocating and litigating on several fronts to force greater transparency within federal agencies. “Declaring openness is one thing. Delivering it is another.”
Evaluators: Besides PEER, evaluators included the American Assn of Law Libraries, American Library Association, Center for Democracy and Technology, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, OMB Watch, OpenTheGovernment.org, Project on Government Oversight, Sunlight Foundation, Union of Concerned Scientists, faculty and students at the Univ. of MD College of Information Studies, and a volunteer, Ted Smith (Health Central, for identification purposes only).