Audit Shows Wide Variation in Agency Open Government Plans

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Audit Shows Wide Variation in Agency Open Government Plans

NASA, HUD, EPA Produce Strong Plans While Justice and OMB Plans Disappoint

WASHINGTON - A ranking of agencies' Open Government Plans compiled in an
independent audit reveals the strongest and weakest agency plans, with
the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at the top of
the list and the Department of Justice (DOJ) at the bottom.
Significantly, the audit found that key agencies assigned to oversee
government openness efforts, particularly the President's own Office of
Management & Budget and DOJ, failed to produce strong Open
Government Plans themselves.

The audit was organized by
OpenTheGovernment.org and conducted by volunteers from nonprofit public
interest groups, including Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER), which have experience working with the agencies
and evaluating their information policies.

The Obama
administration's December 8, 2009, Open Government Directive (OGD)
required executive agencies to develop and post Open Government Plans by
April 7, 2010. The OGD specified elements related to transparency,
participation, and collaboration that must be included in the plans.
The audit rated the extent to which agencies met the administration's
standards as spelled out in the OGD and allowed bonus points for actions
that went beyond the OGD minimum. The audit found:

  • NASA,
    the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental
    Protection Agency created plans that serve as models for other agencies
    by going beyond all the OGD requirements; .
  • The five lowest
    scores went to the Department of Treasury, Department of Defense, Office
    of Management and Budget (OMB), Department of Energy, and the
    Department of Justice.

The extremely low ranking for the plan
developed by OMB is particularly noteworthy since OMB has responsibility
for overseeing other agencies' implementation of the OGD. Similarly,
DOJ's ranking at the bottom of the stack is disquieting given its charge
to implement the Freedom of Information Act, a key public access law.

Last week, the White House issued its own evaluation of agency plans
which concluded that:

"Only three of the cabinet and
other key agencies won a green flag for across-the-board excellence.
All the others - including our own offices of OSTP [Office of Science
& Technology Policy] and OMB - have more work to do before the Plan
fully satisfies every requirement in the Directive."

In
some instances, the White House evaluations differ significantly from
evaluations released today by the watch-dog groups, in part due to the
non-governmental organizations awarding of bonus points. Many of the
weaknesses pinpointed in these evaluations are easily correctible if the
agencies choose to refine their plans and seek a goal of greater
transparency.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

"One presidential directive will not open up
government or change secretive cultures or encourage agencies to
publicly admit mistakes, as if this directive flips a light switch,"
stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is
advocating and litigating on several fronts to force greater
transparency within federal agencies. "Declaring openness is one thing.
Delivering it is another."

 

See how the agencies
rank on their Open Government plans

 View the individual agency evaluations

Compare
the White House's own self evaluation

Look at
continuing transparency failings in the Obama administration

Evaluators:
Besides PEER, evaluators included the American Assn of Law Libraries,
American Library Association, Center for Democracy and Technology,
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, OMB Watch,
OpenTheGovernment.org, Project on Government Oversight, Sunlight
Foundation, Union of Concerned Scientists, faculty and students at the
Univ. of MD College of Information Studies, and a volunteer, Ted Smith
(Health Central, for identification purposes only).

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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