In the past year and a half, President Barack Obama has made a more open and transparent government one of his top priorities.
One of his top aides, Cass Sunstein, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) within the White House Office of Management and Budget, believes there are many dots to connect between officials like himself, and those who maintain government records.
First, open government is associated with the goal, most vividly described by the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, to see “sunlight as the best disinfectants”, words that the President quoted in January 2009. Second, transparency helps people find, quoting the President, “information that they can readily find and use,” This is how information and properly managed records can help us be better and wiser consumers. It’s also about how openness can help us find information that we can readily find and use as citizens, finding information that can help us behave in a more informed way, as voters and participants in our democratic process, as parents, as leaders of communities, as members of multiple organizations of which Americans are a part.
Sunstein notes that here in Washington, D.C., at least among the “inside the beltway” crowd, the latest watchword in open government and transparency is “dashboard.” And Sunstein told the Archives audience that when it comes to the his agency, OIRA — and the specialized audience for information on the federal regulatory process — well, there’s a dashboard for that, too.
“We’ve launched the OIRA dashboard at reginfo.gov . This is an easy to use website that allows every American, indeed, people outside the country as well, to track the rules and regulations that have been submitted for review, and to find a ton of information about those rules and regulations. People can find out what the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has submitted to us, what it’s planning, and can participate in the process if they want.”
Sunstein recounted for the Archives and government agency records management officials, other instances where new open government efforts have paid off.
As an example, he talked about The SAVE awards, in which a nurse with the Department of Veterans Affairs came up with, and has been recognized for, her simple suggestion that veterans being treated in VA hospitals be allowed to take home and use medications prescribed for their treatment, rather than mandating they be thrown away. That decision, culled from a contest in which thousands of federal workers participated and shared suggestions, is expected to save millions of dollars in drug costs for the VA.
Sunstein believes the ribbon tying all this together is effective records management.
For both the public and private sectors alike, transparency insures that more data is available. Proper records management, in particular, insures that people as consumers and as citizens, can find information that they need and can use. Some of these uses and some of these needs help us to make better product choices. Some of these uses and needs help us to better understand our history both recent and not so recent, and help us to build on successes and to avoid failures.
And, urging the records management specialists at the Archives conference to remain steadfast in their efforts, Sunstein says records management and open government “go hand in hand,” adding, “records are like oxygen. No one really notices them until they’re gone.”