White House Rolls Out Online Initiatives

Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer, has been among those developing online tools for citizens to participate in crafting new policies.
Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer, has been among those developing online tools for citizens to participate in crafting new policies. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
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By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 22, 2009

On his first full day in office, President Obama issued his first executive order directing federal officials to come up with ideas for making government information more accessible to the public within 120 days.

Yesterday -- the 120th day since the edict -- the White House rolled out a host of online initiatives intended to foster more dialogue and collaboration between citizens and bureaucrats.

The launch includes the debut of Data.gov, a site on which agencies will post data that can be culled by Web developers to make applications. Also starting yesterday, the WhiteHouse.gov homepage will become a repository for citizen suggestions and discussion regarding new open-government policies.

Obama's call for using technology to create a more cooperative relationship between citizens and their government was a cornerstone of his campaign, and he appointed chief technology and chief information officers to lead those efforts.

But with CTO appointee Aneesh Chopra not yet confirmed by Congress, some open-government advocates have voiced frustration that little progress has been made toward the transparency goals.

Beth Noveck, deputy CTO in the Office of Science and Technology, and Vivek Kundra, federal chief information officer housed in the Office of Management and Budget, as well as the General Services Administration, have used the past four months to develop new online tools designed to allow citizens to participate in crafting new policies.

"This whole process is premised on the notion that people are smart and they have things to share," said Noveck, who was a technology adviser to Obama's transition team before joining the White House staff.

On WhiteHouse.gov will be an "Innovation Gallery," where agencies can showcase their efforts to be more transparent and a timeline to display open-government milestones as they are reached.

Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, an advocate of government transparency, said the launch of Data.gov is significant. Although the site currently has fewer than 100 data feeds, Miller said it "demonstrates the acceptance of the notion that providing raw data is inherent to establishing trust in agencies."

Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org, said emphasis should also be placed on making available internal records, such as policy papers and e-mails.

"Data is important for accountability, but so is how policy was formed," with other types of records, she said.

The White House, she said, will have to "hold agencies' feet to the fire" to get them to make information available to the public and allow citizens to collaborate in the process. Currently, providing data feeds to Data.gov is done on a voluntary basis.

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