White House unveils new open government initiatives

By Ginger Whitaker
Federal News Radio

During a conference at the United Nations in New York City last week, the White House unveiled new or expanded commitments to open government. Notably included are plans to adopt an open source software policy, with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2015, as well as plans to improve delivery of government digital services.

The updates are part of President Barack Obama’s ongoing efforts to increase government transparency.

The newly-unveiled plan includes four main points, outlined by the White House:

  1. Promote Open Education to Increase Awareness and Engagement:

    Focusing on open education, the Obama administration is seeking to promote the sharing of digital learning tools and practices through workshops and other resources. The Department of Labor is also teaming up with the Department of Education to launch an online skills academy next year, offering technology-driven coursework.

  2. Deliver Government Services More Effectively Through Information Technology:

    Through this initiative, the Obama administration plans to improve digital service delivery and adopt an open source policy. Digital professionals are being sought to aid in the process, with the goal of altering the experience that people and businesses have with the government.

    Following in line with agencies, the White House is also planning to adopt an open source software policy to boost innovation and lower costs, benefiting the public at the same time. The administration set a Dec. 31, 2015, deadline to develop an open software policy. In July, Sonny Hashmi, the General Services Administration’s chief information officer, said open source solutions would receive top consideration at the agency. Additionally, the Defense Department issued an updated open source policy in 2009 and launched a platform to promote software development.

    The administration’s plan includes efforts to build digital services in an open and transparent manner, as well as maintaining online tools that enable the public to suggest improvements to the system.

  3. Increase Transparency in Spending:

    As part of the push to make federal spending data more available, USASpending.gov is undergoing a makeover to make it easier to use and improve data quality. The Treasury Department has short- and long-term plans to advance the federal spending website, which could be seen by March 2015.

    The Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act is also a focus of this portion of the new open government initiatives, which aims to improve access to federal financial data.

  4. Use Big Data to Support Greater Openness and Accountability:

    This addresses “big data” technologies and sharing of best practices on data privacy in law enforcement and health services. The administration said it will work to ensure privacy protection for big data analyses when it comes to health issues.

The Second Open Government National Action Plan, introduced in December 2013, outlined 23 new or expanded commitments to open government, including strengthening of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and improving information about government spending. The first National Action plan was released in September 2011, with a set of 26 commitments aimed at making the government more open and accountable.

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