By DANA LIEBELSON and BRYAN RAHIJA
POGO is enthusiastic about the White House's new U.S. National Action Plan on transparency, which was made public today. The plan's release coincides with a speech President Obama gave this afternoon as part of the Open Government Partnership. A great number of POGO's recommendations are incorporated in the plan.
In early September, POGO and partners submitted comments and top policy priorities on an openness agenda to the Obama Administration. Back then POGO wrote, “The president is still not able to say his administration is the most open in history. Many in the openness community want to help the president achieve his objective on openness.” POGO’s recommendations included improving implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), creating an executive order on whistleblower protections and establishing a Presidential Advisory Committee on Open Government (or PACOG.)
As we noted in a statement this morning, the new plan incorporates many of these suggestions. It commits not only to supporting legislation that protects federal whistleblowers, but to using executive power (for example, by issuing an executive order) to impose new protections if Congress fails to enact reforms. It also commits to improving FOIA administration; declassifying information that should be public; increasing transparency in federal spending, revenue collection for natural resources on public lands, and international financial systems; and also modernizing federal records so as to preserve agency emails.
In a blog post announcing the plan, the White House’s Aneesh Chopra Cass Sunstein write that they “engaged in extensive consultations with external stakeholders, including a broad range of civil society groups and members of the private sector,” and “look forward to the work ahead.” We hope that the White House formalizes public participation in this process by creating a federal advisory committee as POGO recommended. According to POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian, “the best way to achieve [measurable progress in these open government initiatives] is through the establishment of a Presidential Advisory Committee on Open Government for sufficient participation by the public and experts outside the government.”
The plan touched briefly on open government measures related to national security. While it touts the executive order on declassifying national security information, it neglects to take credit for several open government accomplishments related to national security. As highlighted in a new report by OpenTheGovernment.org, the Administration has declassified details about the nuclear arsenal, disclosed details about the intelligence budget, and has issued significantly fewer signing statements than previous modern presidents. The Administration deserves credit for these steps towards openness, and shouldn't be shy about claiming them as opengov victories. But the Administration should also make sure that open government is part of the national security equation moving forward—especially when it comes to the state secrets privilege, a POGO recommended reform that was not covered in the plan.
At the end of the day, POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said that POGO has no illusions that the reforms sought will be achieved in one plan or under one administration, but “the President’s roadmap—if properly followed— will go a long way to fulfilling his promise for an ‘unprecedented level of openness in government.’”
Dana Liebelson is POGO's Beth Daley Impact Fellow. Bryan Rahija edits POGO's blog.