“Let the Sunshine in?”

National Sunshine Week starts on March 16!

So, to get us in the holiday spirit, let’s go back to 2009 when, for those of us who joust regularly with government officials for a morsel of information, hope and change still felt fresh and within reach, and the new Obama White House pledged unprecedented transparency.

Five years later, Team Obama is still struggling to figure it out.

One good government watcher suggested Obama may have been wise to “promise less and do more.” Obama likely feels that way about his transparency pledge — among other things.

Some agencies have taken transparency to heart. For others, it’s enemy territory. At the end of the year, the Sunlight Foundation called out the Departments of Commerce and Defense and Veterans Affairs as top offenders. (Education and EPA were the good guys in their review.) UPDATED: The folks at Sunlight tell the Loop that all Cabinet agencies eventually met the first open data deadline.

So the White House is putting agencies on notice – publicly.

Todd Park, the administration’s chief technology officer, last week sent agencies a guidance memo (for the first time since 2009) that made public new metrics to use when writing their 2014 Open Government Plans — the third round of action plans intended to build a “presumption of openness” into everyday operations.

By April 1, around 100 departments must submit an outline that includes a “flagship initiative” described in the guidance as “at least one specific new transparency, participation or collaboration initiative that your agency is currently implementing.”

The notice also continues the White House missive that agencies reduce its FOIA backlog by 10 percent annually, a figure the Department of Justice boasts in its annual report that the overall government exceeded in 2012.

But one skeptical open government observer tells the Loop that some success on that front is because “agencies are playing fast and loose with the statistics.” Denying a FOIA request counts toward reducing backlog.

Might help if they stopped abusing the “secret stamp” by putting it on most every last document? (Yes, DOD, that means you.)

Ah, yes, you can almost hear the Fifth Dimension singing:

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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