Obama has had a problem with open government advocates since taking office because his actions in office don't quite meet with the rhetoric of his campaign. In some cases this isn't exactly fair, given that the president can't just wave a wand and pass sweeping legislation. But when it comes to decisions entirely up to his administration, he really doesn't have any excuses.
One of the areas that more wonky types have picked up on has been the idea of Open Government. This was part of his campaign's plank and I think he deserves credit for moving in the right direction in some places. But he hasn't lived up to reasonable expectations in other areas and comments by the woman President Obama appointed to oversee his Open Government Initiative, Former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Beth Noveck, may illustrate some of the reason as to why this has been the case.
From a recent piece she wrote at The Huffington Post:
The problem with aligning the White House's goals to a traditional reform agenda is not only having to endure Jon Stewart's scathing yet humorous attacks on any failures to deliver, but that open government and the Open Government Directive were never exclusively about making transparent information about the workings of government. It was a strategy for changing how government works -- using public sector information to create more innovative institutions and effective democracy.
Putting the cabinet secretary's schedule up online does little to produce greater accountability or better government. At least there's no empirical evidence to suggest that it does. By contrast, when HHS makes hundreds of datasets about health and wellness available online and invites .orgs and .coms to transform that data into tools that help individuals, institutions and communities make smarter decisions that improve the quality and reduce the cost of healthcare, it is partnering with the public to solve problems more collaboratively.
The public isn't simply accepting the solution that government comes up with by creating new services and solutions. I've written earlier about how this kind of co-creation makes government institutions more innovative and also creates jobs and economic growth.
This is not what the president said during the campaign. This is not how the president sold his reforms when he made them. This may be technically true, that that directive was not exclusively about transparency, but it is clear that transparency was what it was supposed to be about. This rings of someone who is trying to whitewash their time in the White House with some pretty ridiculous spin.
The entire point of open government reforms is accountability, allowing watchdogs, and citizens of any kind really, to be able to see if the government is putting our money where it's mouth has been, so to speak. She's also dead wrong that posting the schedules of top governmental officials doesn't produce greater accountability. Why, for example, shouldn't the public know who the administration, supposed servants of the American people, is having talks with on the run up to important legislation being drafted?
Later on in her post, she even somewhat apologizes for using the term, saying that it was unfortunate that people assumed that open government actually meant... open government, and then tries to distract the reader from the subject at hand yet again, counterpointing the actions of innovators that use public data to make creative solutions to public problems. This is all well and good, but calling this open government, while also selling in a way that furthers the perception that it means what it seems to say at face value is classic political obfuscation.
Obfuscating with transparency verbiage... could the irony be any more thick?
Solomon Kleinsmith is a nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates. He is currently collaborating with other centrist independent and moderate bloggers on a news aggregation and social networking site, and is always looking for ways to help the independent groundswell as more and more people become disaffected with the two major parties.