EDITOR'S DESK—Commentary

Wyatt Kash | The tools to open up government

President Barack Obama's push to make government more open -- and participatory -- gained notable momentum in recent days, fueling supporters and skeptics.

On May 21, Office of Management and Budget director Peter R. Orszag announced that the Federal Chief Information Officers Council had launched Data.gov. It is a start in giving the public access to economic, health, environmental and other government information via a single Web site and, more important, give visitors the ability to reuse — or “democratize” — the data in innovative ways.

That same day, the White House also announced the debut of its new Open Government Initiative Web site. The site is partly a showcase for the White House’s transparency efforts, with an innovations gallery and a blog. But it also provides a platform for public participation, including a link to a companion site  that lets the public contribute, and vote on, proposals for improving government transparency. The responses will be incorporated in final recommendations to the White House by June 19.

Meanwhile, the General Services Administration in recent days has reiterated its progress in signing governmentwide user agreements with a more than a dozen social media Web sites, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The agreements clear away legal hurdles that prevented agency employees from posting government information to distinct communities of interest on those sites.

The timing, not accidentally, revolves around a presidential executive order calling for recommendations to further open government.

But with the Senate’s confirmation May 21 of Aneesh Chopra as federal CTO and associate director for the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, the administration has at least put in place some important tools to create a more open and technologically savvy government.

Whether those tools act as a wedge to open up government, or a hammer pounding in vain at institutional stone, remains to be seen.

What is clear is that the role of government Web sites is about to change dramatically, as they become part of a new and more dynamic communications ecosystem.

Agency leaders who fail to see that — and how their Web sites might function more productively -- are ignoring a fundamental duty and a powerful opportunity.

But even agency leaders who do see the possibilities need to do more.

One place to start: Align agency Web teams more directly into the CIO’s office, rather than being relegated to a public affairs function. Better yet, bring those folks to the strategic planning table, where their ideas would not only help make the work of government more accessible to the public but, ideally, to fellow federal workers as well.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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