White House hints at Federal Data Strategy, OPEN Govt Data Act, in open-government strategy

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The Trump administration released its first — but the U.S. government’s fourth — National Action Plan for Open Government Thursday night, more than a year after the original deadline set by the international Open Government Partnership.

“This roadmap for the next two years outlines a selection of Trump administration objectives to make government information more open and accessible for developers, academics, entrepreneurs and everyday Americans — ultimately fostering increased private-sector innovation, more advanced scientific research, stronger economic growth, improved public service delivery and greater insight into United States government operations,” the White House plan states.

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As a founding member of the OGP, the U.S. has put out a new transparency roadmap every other year since 2011.

Nick Hart,  the director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Evidence Project, said the Trump administration’s strategy takes a new direction from the three previous national action plans submitted by the Obama administration.

“The Obama plans included dozens of action items that aligned with a variety of administration priorities from community policing to increasing spending transparency. The Trump plan includes just eight discrete steps — but they are targeted and important ones that could move the country in a productive direction,” Hart wrote in an email Friday.

The majority of the provisions outlined in the strategy refer back open-government bills, such as the recently passed OPEN Government Data Act, which requires agencies to appoint chief data officers, and the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act, which Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) and Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) re-introduced in January after the bill passed the House last session.

The plan also makes reference to the President’s Management Agenda, which includes leveraging data as a strategic asset as one of its cross-agency priority goals.

“It’s committed to implementing the President’s Management Agenda, where there’s an existing aspect on accountable government. It’s not a new open government commitment, it’s not transformative. It’s simply doing what they’ve already said that they’re going to do,” former Sunlight Foundation deputy director Alex Howard, now a writer for the website E Pluribus Unum, said in an interview.

The national strategy includes the following eight initiatives:

  1. Leverage data as a strategic asset and publish a Federal Data Strategy
  2. Ensure accountability for grants
  3. Provide public access to federally funded research
  4. Foster the expansion of workforce data standards
  5. Create agency-level chief data officers
  6. Use open data to fuel innovation and improve public health
  7. Improve the intelligence community’s work on privacy, civil liberties, and
    transparency
  8. Expand public participation in developing future U.S. national action plans

In October 2017, former acting Federal Chief Information Officer Margie Graves told OGP’s chief executive that the U.S.  would delay the release of its plan until August 2018.

“This delay will allow the additional time needed to fine-tune a strong and quality action plan
reflective of national priorities,” Graves wrote in a letter to OGP’s chief executive officer.

The U.S. helped create the OGP in 2011 along with seven other countries. It now counts 74 national governments, 15 subnational governments and thousands of civil society organizations as members.

“Generally, it’s given governments more opportunity to tout their successes and for civil society to hold the government accountable for past commitments, or to making strong ones in the future,” Howard said. “But it, I think, has been a very important mechanism for many different players in civil society organizations — nonprofits, watchdogs, activists, advocates, journalists, you name it — to get their particular challenges with open government in a given country more global attention.”

The Trump administration’s plan omits an initiative from the 2015 national action plan focused on increasing transparency in spending, which emphasized the work of the 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act.

“The work to assure that government-wide spending information reported to USAspending.gov continually improves in completeness, accuracy and reusability should remain an ongoing national focus,” Christian Hoehner, the Data Coalition’s policy director, said in an email Friday.

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