December 8, 2009 | By David Sobel

White House Takes Another Step Toward Greater Transparency

The Obama Administration today issued its long-awaited Open Government Directive (OGD), a blueprint for transparency that the President promised on January 21, his first full day in office. The OGD is “intended to direct executive departments and agencies to take specific actions to implement the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration” the President spoke of as he took office, and it is hopefully the first of many concrete steps that will be taken to alter the entrenched culture of secrecy that pervades the federal government.

The OGD imposes four broad mandates on the federal bureaucracy: 1) publish government information online; 2) improve the quality of government information; 3) create and institutionalize a culture of open government; and 4) create an enabling policy framework for open government. The Directive sets time limits, ranging from 45 to 120 days, for agency action to implement specific benchmarks (this “open government timetable” is summarized in an excellent analysis by Meredith Fuchs of the National Security Archive). Many of the requirements are fairly concrete; for instance, within 60 days, each agency must create an “Open Government Webpage” to serve as the gateway for agency activities related to implementation of the OGD, including the receipt of public comments. There are lots of good ideas in the directive, and the success of this endeavor will be determined by the enthusiasm (or lack thereof) with which it’s received by agency officials and the federal workforce.

If the White House is serious about gaining enthusiastic, government-wide cooperation to make open government a reality, it can lead by example, and EFF can suggest a great place to start. Back in January and February, soon after the President issued his groundbreaking pronouncements on transparency, we submitted two requests to the White House for information concerning high-profile technology policy issues. The first sought disclosure of a waiver the White House Counsel issued to permit the use of visitor-tracking cookies at The second request asked for release of policies governing the use of BlackBerries and other wireless devices by the President and high-ranking White House officials. More than ten months after the submission of those requests, EFF is still waiting for responses.

While we applaud the Obama Administration for continuing to say the right things about government transparency, and look forward to the successful implementation of the initiative announced today, we can’t ignore the fact that the White House continues to be less than forthcoming about some of its own practices and policies. We hope we’ll be receiving the information we requested before the first anniversary of the President’s inauguration.

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