Archive for the ‘Open Government’ tag
The central recommendation of the Government 2.0 Taskforce’s report was that the Australian Government makes a declaration of open government. As the Minister responsible for that Taskforce, I am proud to make that Declaration today on behalf of the Australian Government.
Agencies of the Vietnamese Government have been directed to use Open Source Software in 2009. It seems that a similar directive was issued some time ago, but the government isn’t happy with the pace of implementation and so has made the ruling firmer. One reason is to combat piracy of Microsoft software:
The Obama Administration’s Open Government Directive ordered Federal agencies to produce open government plans by April 7th, and while some advocates are disappointed, we have before us a bewildering number of initiatives to improve transparency, collaboration, and participation across the Government. It will not surprise you to learn that I spent some time looking for places where open source is being used in these plans.
On the heels of the Open Government Memo of January 21st, 2009, the Obama Administration has issued the Open Government Directive. The Directive tells agencies what they must do to meet the expectations set by the Memo. The directive names many deadlines for agency compliance, most of them around reducing FOIA backlogs and increasing the amount of agency data released to the public. This isn’t surprising, since the Memo names transparency, collaboration, and participation as the guiding principles. Transparency is the easiest to articulate and implement — just get the data out there in a useful form. Josh Tauberer’s Open Data is Civic Capital: Best Practices for “Open Government Data” is an excellent handbook for doing this. If you want to track agencies’ progress, the Sunlight Labs folks have produced the outstanding Open Watcher.
What’s most interesting to me, and my friends at Open Source for America, though, are the more ambiguous orders. Although the Directive does not use the phrase ‘open source software’ at all, many of the principles and methodologies described are obvious references to open source. Many of these orders stand out as opportunities for open source developers, in the public and private sector, to demonstrate how our development model can help the Administration also make good on the last two principles: collaboration and participation. As Macon Phillips, the White House New Media Director said, “Open Source is… the best form of civic participation.”
Let’s take a look at the deadlines, helpfully produced by Daniel Schuman at the Sunlight Foundation.
45 days — January 22, 2010
“Each agency shall identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets and register those data sets via Data.gov” (p.2)
This is a wonderful opportunity for open source developers to demonstrate the power of citizen participation through software. The Administration has taken a great risk by pushing this data to the public. There are all kinds of reasons to not do it: privacy concerns, security issues, and the risk-averse culture in most of these organizations. Despite the instructions to be careful with citizens’ privacy, and the reminder to be sensitive to security issues, there’s still a chance that something could go wrong — plenty of reason to not follow through with this exercise. We need to help the Administration prove that this was a worthwhile cause. Just as we showed the power of citizen programmers in Apps for Democracy and Apps for America, we need to take these data sets and make them useful to the American public.
“The Deputy Director for Management at OMB, the Federal Chief Information Officer, and the Federal Chief Technology Officer will establish a working group that focuses on transparency, accountability, participation, and collaboration within the Federal Government. This group, with senior level representation from program and management offices throughout the Government, will serve several critical functions, including:
- Providing a forum to share best practices on innovative ideas to promote transparency, including system and process solutions for information collection, aggregation, validation, and dissemination;
- Coordinating efforts to implement existing mandates for Federal spending transparency, including the Federal Funding Accountability Transparency Act and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act; and
- Providing a forum to share best practices on innovative ideas to promote participation and collaboration, including how to experiment with new technologies, take advantage of the expertise and insight of people both inside and outside the Federal Government, and form high-impact collaborations with researchers, the private sector, and civil society.” (p.5)
Now here’s a working group I would like to speak with very much. If you read the language of the third subsection, it’s amazing how many words you have to use to not say the words “open source”: experiment with new technologies, using expertise inside and outside the government, high-impact collaborations with many communities of use… they’re all but begging to create open source software projects to support the release of this government data.
In this “forum for best practices” on open data initiatives, you can imagine how useful a recommendation of open source software might be. You can even imagine the working group recommending government open source projects to help handle data that may be in strange government-specific formats.
60 days — February 6, 2010
“Each agency shall create an Open Government Webpage located at http://www.[agency].gov/open to serve as the gateway for agency activities related to the Open Government Directive” (p.2)
“The Federal Chief Information Officer and the Federal Chief Technology Officer shall create an Open Government Dashboard on www.whitehouse.gov/open. The Open Government Dashboard will make available each agency’s Open Government Plan, together with aggregate statistics and visualizations designed to provide an assessment of the state of open government in the Executive Branch and progress over time toward meeting the deadlines for action outlined in this Directive.” (p.5)
Of course, if an agency is writing new software to support these new “/open” areas, I’d like to see that software made available under a open license. If there are any clever data analysis or visualization tools, those should be licensed as open source software, as well. That way, citizens would have the opportunity to help the agency with their own disclosures, and agencies could more easily share tools with each other.
90 days — March 8, 2010
“The Deputy Director for Management at OMB will issue, through separate guidance or as part of any planned comprehensive management guidance, a framework for how agencies can use challenges, prizes, and other incentive-backed strategies to find innovative or cost-effective solutions to improving open government.” (p.5)
This is a strangely oblique reference to Vivek Kundra’s Apps for Democracy project when he was CTO in Washington, DC, and the national-scale follow-on, Apps for America. Both of these contests asked that submissions be provided under OSI-approved licenses. This is important to keep these projects going. If contestant’s software is under a proprietary license, there is no momentum behind the contest, since nobody can contribute to it after the fact. You might as well hold no contest at all, and instead just bid the work out to a contractor.
120 days — April 7, 2010
“Each agency shall develop and publish on its Open Government Webpage an Open Government Plan that will describe how it will improve transparency and integrate public participation and collaboration into its activities. Additional details on the required content of this plan are attached. Each agency’s plan shall be updated every two years.” (p.4)
I would hope very much that these plans for additional public participation and collaboration include invitations to open source developers who would like to help an agency build tools that make them function more transparently and efficiently.
“The Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), in consultation with the Federal Chief Information Officer and the Federal Chief Technology Officer, will review existing OMB policies, such as Paperwork Reduction Act guidance and privacy guidance, to identify impediments to open government and to the use of new technologies and, where necessary, issue clarifying guidance and/or propose revisions to such policies, to promote greater openness in government.” (p.6)
I hope that this review would include an examination of FACA implementation guidelines, which is understood by many to prevent open source developers from directly participating with some Federal agencies, for fear of having offered the explicitly prohibited “volunteer help.” We believe this isn’t the case, and it would be great if OIRA published some clarifying language. If they were to provide an interpretation of OMB Circular 130-A that ensured it was safe for agencies to create open source software without running afoul of procurement regulations, that would be wonderful.
So here’s a tremendous opportunity for the open source community. We have been given an early Christmas gift: a pretty clear path for more open source software and (perhaps more importantly) more government-sponsored open source projects inside each agency. If you want to help take advantage of this opportunity, you can sign up at Open Source for America and join a working group. You’ll be glad you did.
A hearty thanks the Heather West of CDT and Melanie Chernoff of Red Hat for their invaluable comments.
Open Source for America (OSFA) represents more than 1,500 businesses, associations, non-governmental organizations, communities, and academic/research institutions who have come together to support and guide federal efforts to make the U.S. Government more open through the use of free and open source software. We applaud the Obama Administration’s Open Government Initiative and the December 8th Directive requiring all federal agencies to promulgate Open Government Plans. We offer the following recommendations for essential elements that belong in every Open Government Plan:
Citizens should have opportunities to meaningfully participate in their government’s work. This means that the government should actively solicit citizen input in its solicitations and internal rule-making. Open Source for America believes that citizen-created open source software is an invaluable resource to agencies as they accomplish their mission. There is also a tremendous opportunity to capture the innovation and ingenuity of government employees, who have the means to create their own tools to make themselves more effective, rather than waiting for a cumbersome and unresponsive procurement process. Open source software is, in fact, the most concrete form of participation available to the government’s constituents and its employees.
- Agencies should provide a means to receive unsolicited suggestions for free and open source software tools and software that can help them accomplish their missions.
- Agencies should encourage competitive bid reviews for procurements and clearly identify and explain all sole-source procurement decisions.
- Agency procurement rules should explicitly reject preferences for particular products or development models.
- Agencies should have a mechanism for efficiently responding to public input through online sources.
Collaboration between agencies and its constituents is often conducted through comments on proposed rule-making and advisory councils. Open Source for America believes that while citizen participation is important, a deep and ongoing collaboration with its constituents helps agencies become more responsive and accountable to their constituents. Open Source for America believes that free and open source software provides a concrete and immediate means for an agency to work with its constituents.
- Agencies should use online tools, such as wikis, forums and social media, to solicit public input and feedback on policy and procurement.
- Agencies should allow federal employees and contractors to participate in open source software development initiatives where such efforts contribute to the federal mission.
- Agencies should have issued policy guidance promoting the identification and removal of any improper barriers to the agencies’ effective development and use of open source software.
- Agencies should facilitate the sharing of software source code and associated design documents across each agency, as has been done with forge.mil at the DOD.
- Agencies should have policies encouraging and clarifying the circumstances permitting the sharing of software code, code fixes and code enhancements with the larger community, as has been done with NHIN Connect at HHS and Virtual USA at DHS.
Open Source for America strongly believes that a more transparent government is more efficient and accountable to its constituents. Under the Open Government Directive, transparency means the prompt release of government documents and data to the Internet. This increases accountability, and also provides a tremendous opportunity for innovation and entrepreneurship. Open data from the National Weather Service, for example, has created a multi-billion dollar weather forecasting industry. We believe that transparency can be much more. Open tools, like open data, can spur innovation, increase accountability, and make the government more efficient.
- Agencies should strive to make the source code for their internal applications available to the public and other agencies, as DISA has done with its Open Source Corporate Management System (OSCMIS).
- Agency budget and procurement details should be clearly published on public web sites and easily downloaded.
- Agencies should conduct regular reviews of classified materials, including software, to encourage declassification wherever possible, and restrict access only by exception.
- Agencies should publicize private sponsorships for fact-finding trips and receipt of all free “product samples,” goods or services received from outside parties.
- Agencies should publish lists of “approved products” available for agency procurement, where they exist.
- Agencies should publish logs that inform the public of ex parte policy discussions and would-be vendor solicitations.
- Agencies should use and accept open file format standards when seeking public input or announcing agency policy.
- Agency publications and data distributed in royalty- or patent-encumbered formats should also be made available in open formats.
In December the U.S. White House set guidelines for an open and transparent administration. The Open Source for America (OSFA) organization is now following up with tips for a governmental move to free software.
The Open Source for America organization is the largest lobbying group for free software in the U.S. Its members include Canonical, the Debian project, the GNOME Foundation, Google, KDE e.V., Novell, and Red Hat. Subsequent to the White House guidelines, the OSFA has set its own to help the individual governmental bodies in their move to free software by April 2010.
The relatively short and easy-to-understand document divides its recommendations into the categories Participation, Collaboration, and Transparency. In particular, “Agency procurement rules should explicitly reject preferences for particular products or development models” and instead “agencies should provide a means to receive unsolicited suggestions for free and open source software tools.” They should also use platform-independent online tools as much as possible and provide free licensing for internally developed applications to “facilitate sharing” across agencies.
Source: Linux Magazine
One of the interesting consequences of the Open Government Directive has been a burst of enthusiasm by some of the open source software proponents and vendors (see here and here) who have immediately established a link between the use of open source and the directive.
For those who have been following some of the vintage discussions about government and open source, this will probably sound like a déjà vu. I honestly thought that people had finally given up pushing the confusion between open source and open standards or open formats, but here we are again.
I would argue that open government data and open source software have nothing to do. Commercial software can produce and use open formats today. What needs to be open is the data and not the software used to process it. Open source software has its own pros and cons and if governments feel they need to take positive actions to encourage or even mandate its use, so be it, but please do not claim this will make data any more open.
I could have taken this argument a few years ago, when Microsoft and other commercial vendors were holding to their proprietary data formats, but now that those battles have been fought (nor sure who has won though), let’s focus on what really needs to be open.
How is the Obama Administration’s Open Government (Open Gov) initiative different from the Bush Administration’s E-government (E-gov) initiative? There are many people who use the two terms interchangeably but this paper argues that although they are distinct initiatives in the United States, they are also part of the same E-democracy maturity continuum. Thus while they should not be handled totally separately, they should not be combined either. This paper provides a short history and terminology discussion and then compares and contrasts the two initiatives.
By Jenn Gustetic, Associate, Phase One Consulting Group
PDF: Read more
At the Gov 2.0 Summit, federal deputy CTO Beth Noveck detailed what is being done to make government data more widely available.
Nine months into President Obama’s term, three of his top IT strategists Wednesday provided a status report on the president’s open government initiatives. But the underlying tone at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington where they spoke is that most of the work still lies ahead.
Speaking at the Gov 2.0 Summit, co-sponsored by O’Reilly Media and TechWeb, Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra said that the Open Government Directive requested by Obama in January will be published in three or four weeks. Chopra said the directive will require that federal agencies take a “structured approach” to releasing government data and that they engage the public in crafting their open government plans.
Beth Noveck, deputy CTO in the office of the president, provided a detailed accounting of the Obama administration’s push to create more transparent, collaborative, and participatory government agencies, departments, and services.
Deliverables noted by Noveck include the appointment of the first federal CTO (Chopra) and federal CIO (Vivek Kundra); Obama’s “Transparency and Open Government” memo, which called for the soon-to-be-delivered Open Government Directive; “pro-transparency” guidelines issued by the Department of Justice that apply to Freedom of Information Act requests; open policy-making forums; and the White House’s decision to release visitor logs.
Noveck pointed to Recovery.gov, Data.gov, and Broadband.gov as representative of the feds’ push to make government data more widely available in user-accessible formats.
Macon Phillips, the White House’s director of new media, described his job as having three primary objectives: amplifying Obama’s “message” to the American public; contributing to the administration’s transparency mandate; and creating opportunities for the public to participate in government.
Phillips was asked whether there’s a role for new media in Obama’s healthcare reform proposals, the latest version of which the president presented in a speech to Congress Wednesday. “Absolutely,” said Phillips. “We’re making a case for the president’s plan. It’s full of stories, argument, debate, and deliberation, and it should be.”
One of the biggest challenges facing the Obama administration in its use of social media tools is its ability to absorb the public feedback generated by that interactivity. “It’s the input, output problem,” Phillips said. “We’re constantly impressed by, and challenged by, the amount of information we’re getting.”
In addition to her progress report, Noveck acknowledged there’s more to be done in the push for open government, mentioning the need to open the government grants process as one example.
Other presenters at the Gov 2.0 Summit, and attendees in hallway conversations, made that point that federal agencies are still early in their “government 2.0″ efforts. Obama’s Open Government Directive has yet to be delivered; some Department of Defense and other federal agencies restrict or ban use of social media tools; and much government data still sits in database silos behind firewalls.
“It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system,” Justice Louis D. Brandeis wrote in 1932, “that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” The Obama Administration is taking unprecedented strides toward creating the most open and accountable government in history. And in so doing, we’re learning from those states and municipalities, which are undertaking exciting experiments to bring transparency, participation, and collaboration to the way they work as well.
Inspired by the President’s call for more open government, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts launched its data catalogue, following in the footsteps of Washington, DC, San Francisco, New York, and elsewhere around the country (as well as cities in Canada and the UK), to provide public access to information by and about government. What makes this exciting is not merely having transportation information available in machine-readable formats, but that professional and amateur enthusiasts can then get together, as they did last weekend, to create new software applications and data visualizations to better enable public transit riders to track arrival times for the next subway, bus, or ferry. Publishing government information online facilitates this kind of useful collaboration between government and the public that transforms dry data into the tools that improve people’s lives. (For another great example, check out what happened when we published the Federal Register for people to use.)
The National Association of State CIOs is helping to spur this movement toward greater data transparency at the state level by publishing “Guidance for Opening the Doors to State Data.”
Just as the federal government is using online brainstorming with government employees and the public to generate ideas for saving money or going green, state and local governments are also using new technology to tap people’s intelligence and expertise. The City of Manor, Texas (pop. 5800) has launched “Manor Labs,” an innovation marketplace for improving city services. A participant can sign up to suggest “ideas and solutions” for the police department, the municipal court, and everything in between. Each participant’s suggestion is ranked and rewarded with “innobucks.” These innobucks points can be redeemed for prizes: a million innobucks points wins “mayor for the day” while 400,000 points can be traded for a ride-along with the Chief of Police.
Manor is also one of the few cities currently using bar codes (known as QR or Quick Response Codes) to label physical locations around town. These bar codes can be scanned with a mobile phone to communicate historical and touristic information, data about the cost of a municipal service, or emergency management information. Manor is experimenting with techniques for providing different information to different audiences. If a resident scans a QR code outside a home for sale, she gets the floor plan and purchase price; whereas the building inspector gets the inspection history; and the first responder gets information about the current occupant.
As more of these innovative projects that foster open government go live and achieve results, we look forward to showcasing some of them on our blog and eventually making details available on the Open Government Innovation Gallery. Developers with new tools to offer to facilitate open government – including free social media applications — should also check out Apps.gov and list their products (here’s how) for others to use. Openness and accountability are the responsibility of government at every level. By getting out the word about innovations that help to realize open government in practice, we can both promote new experiments and help people find and re-use the best ones.
Beth Noveck is Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government
I have just publish a note that provides Gartner definition of Government 2.0 as the use of IT to socialize and commoditize government services, processes and data.
While there is a research note (access for clients only) explaining the definition in some detail, I want to provide the main highlights here.
The socialization of information has multiple facets (government to citizens, citizens to government and government to government) and the boundaries between these facets are increasingly blurred. The next step will be the socialization of services and processes by engaging individuals and communities to perform part of existing government processes or transform them by leveraging external data and applications.
Commoditization – which has already started with consolidation and shared services to reduce the diversity of infrastructure and horizontal application – will gradually move toward services and business processes.
Government 2.0 has seven main characteristics:
- It is citizen-driven.
- It is employee-centric.
- It keeps evolving.
- It is transformational.
- It requires a blend of planning and nurturing.
- It needs Pattern-Based Strategy capabilities.
- It calls for a new management style.
A programming overhaul of the White House’s Web site has set the tech world abuzz. For low-techies, it’s a snooze — you won’t notice a thing.
The online-savvy administration on Saturday switched to open-source code for http://www.whitehouse.gov — meaning the programming language is written in public view, available for public use and able for people to edit.
“We now have a technology platform to get more and more voices on the site,” White House new media director Macon Phillips told The Associated Press hours before the new site went live on Saturday. “This is state-of-the-art technology and the government is a participant in it.”
White House officials described the change as similar to rebuilding the foundation of a building without changing the street-level appearance of the facade. It was expected to make the White House site more secure — and the same could be true for other administration sites in the future.
“Security is fundamentally built into the development process because the community is made up of people from all across the world, and they look at the source code from the very start of the process until it’s deployed and after,” said Terri Molini of Open Source for America, an interest group that has pushed for more such programs.
Having the public write code may seem like a security risk, but it’s just the opposite, experts inside and outside the government argued. Because programmers collaborate to find errors or opportunities to exploit Web code, the final product is therefore more secure.
For instance, instead of a dozen administration programmers trying to find errors, thousands of programmers online constantly are refining the programs and finding potential pitfalls.
It will be a much faster way to change the programming behind the Web site. When the model was owned solely by the government, federal contractors would have to work through the reams of code to troubleshoot it or upgrade it. Now, it can be done in the matter of days and free to taxpayers.
Obama’s team, which harnessed the Web to win an electoral landslide in 2008 and raise millions, has been working toward the shift since it took office Jan. 20 with a White House site based on technology purchased at the end of President George W. Bush’s administration.
It didn’t let the tech-savvy Obama team build the new online platform it wanted. For instance, 60,000 watched Obama speech to a joint session of Congress on health care. One-third of those stayed online to talk with administration officials about the speech. But there are limits; the programming used to power that was built for Facebook, the popular social networking Web site.
“We want to improve the tools used by thousands of people who come to WhiteHouse.gov to engage with White House officials, and each other, in meaningful ways,” Phillips said.
It’s also a nod to Obama’s pledge to make government more open and transparent. Aides joked that it doesn’t get more transparent than showing the world a code that their Web site is based on.
Under the open-source model, thousands of people pick it apart simultaneously and increase security. It comes more cheaply than computer coding designed for a single client, such as the Executive Office of the President. It gives programmers around the world a chance to offer upgrades, additions or tweaks to existing programs that the White House could — or could not — include in daily updates.
Yet the system — known as Drupal — alone won’t make it more secure on its own, cautioned Ari Schwartz of the Center for Democracy and Technology.
“The platform that they’re moving to is just something to hang other things on,” he said. “They need to keep up-to-date with the latest security patches.”
WASHINGTON — Aneesh Chopra, the nation’s first federal CTO, pledged this morning that the government will issue a sweeping open-government directive within “literally weeks,” making good on the oldest promise of the administration.
The day after his inauguration, President Obama issued the first edict in his new office. It was his open government directive, calling on his yet-to-be-named chief technology officer to coordinate a plan with the various agencies within 120 days to marshal Obama’s charge to make the mechanics of Washington more transparent, participatory and collaborative.
Taking office the day of his deadline, Chopra obviously wasn’t able to meet Obama’s timetable. But open government is coming, and soon, he promised.
“You will see every agency in the federal government will be directed to publish and engage the public … in their open government plans,” Chopra said this morning at the Gov 2.0 Summit, a conference on technology and government co-hosted by O’Reilly Media and TechWeb.
The White House tech team got the ball rolling in May, when they opened the section of the official site, WhiteHouse.gov/Open, initiating an online brainstorming session with a wiki where the public could submit ideas for how to apply Obama’s open-government principles across the federal bureaucracy.
What followed was the same set of spirited arguments that play out across the discussion forums on Wikipedia, Chopra said.
Now, Chopra is working with the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration to finalize the open government directive.
The first pillar of the directive will be a mandate prevailing on the agencies to enact structural changes so that the open government principles become part of their institutional fabric, Chopra said, effectively “hardwiring our agency accountability for open government.”
He said the idea was to ensure that notion of an IT-enabled open government would not be tethered to a particular administration or agency head, instead effecting a more fundamental shift where transparency would become the standard way of doing business in Washington.
As part of the directive, every agency would be required to develop and communicate a plan for reaching out to citizens and engaging them in their work developing policy.
A lofty goal, to be sure, and one that has still has its fair share of skeptics who have charged the administration with more promise than delivery on the open-government front. Some critics have been inclined to view the Web sites and new-media initiatives the administration has launched as more lip service to a new collaborative era, rather than the real article.
But Chopra spoke of the administration’s open government initiative as a gradual process, but one that nonetheless signals a fundamental shift.
“We are piloting tools that would basically serve as proxy for what had historically been the domain of meetings and forums for those who have a Washington-centric point of view,” he said. “We have a dramatic change in the way we’re approaching public participation.”
Another component of the coming directive on open government to call in the agencies to bring more data online, and to make it available in a machine-readable format, rather than the PDFs that are often the vessels for government documents.
That idea, whose beginnings can be seen in the Web site Data.gov, is essentially to turn the government storehouse of information into a platform for innovation. O’Reilly Media CEO Tim O’Reilly compared the concept to the iPhone, Apple’s wildly popular smartphone that set in motion an app revolution when it opened its platform to developers.
“The smartphone used to work is a lot like the way Gov 1.0 worked,” O’Reilly said. Now, less than a year-and-a-half later, Apple’s App Store offers some 70,000 applications. “That’s the power of a platform,” O’Reilly said.