Federal agencies must post data online, White House says

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The White House released a series of wide-ranging mandates Tuesday designed to make agencies more transparent and cooperative in the public's requests for information about the inner workings of government.

Among other things, federal agencies have until the end of January to post three "high-value" data sets on Data.gov, the online home of such government information.

The Open Government Plan delivers a victory to open-government groups that have long sought to transform how the government presents and shares information with the public.

The plan says that agencies must publish information online in a timely manner and present their data in a Web-friendly format that is available to download. Agencies with significant backlogs of Freedom of Information Act requests will have to reduce that number of requests by 10 percent each year.

Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said he expects that federal agencies and departments will comply.

"Failure to follow through on this will generate displeasure from the White House and the president," he said in an interview. "I don't think we've had a problem with Cabinet secretaries embracing clear directives from the president."

Orszag's team spent months meeting with government officials and good-government groups after President Obama ordered on his first full day in office a review of the government's transparency and openness efforts.

"The results appear to be well worth the wait," said Gary D. Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, one of several groups that pushed for transparency reforms.

"The key will be how the public, the White House and federal agencies work together in implementing the directive," Bass said.

Ellen Miller, executive director and co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation in Washington, said that the new orders demonstrate "the seriousness of the administration's commitment to data transparency and citizen engagement. It is evidence that the administration recognizes that transparency is government's responsibility."

Orszag said that the Internet has made government transparency efforts much easier. Although an agency could require that people visit their offices to review public records, he said, that would be "much less transparent than posting something on a Web site."

"Ease of access is part of transparency," Orszag said.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company