By DANA LIEBELSON
On September 20, the White House will formally unveil its international Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global effort to make governments more transparent, effective and accountable. In light of this laudable initiative, POGO and OpenTheGovernment.org (OTG.org) have worked together with other civil society organizations to outline a series of recommendations that provide the Obama administration with ways to ensure a robust initial action plan by the U.S..
The aim of the new partnership is to provide “a vehicle to further advance President Obama and Secretary Clinton's goals of strengthening democracy and human rights, fighting corruption, and harnessing technology and innovation to transform governance in the 21st century.” So far, 22 countries have signed on, with Georgia, Israel, Guatemala and Bulgaria among the most recent participants.
The Obama administration has held at least four in-person meetings with various civil society groups so far, two of which have been attended by POGO and OTG.org. In a meeting on August 31, POGO’s director of public policy, Angela Canterbury says she was gratified to learn from administration officials that the plan is intended to be organic and will keep evolving after its initial unveiling. She urged them to consider establishing an advisory committee as the forum for ongoing public participation and collaboration with experts.
Yesterday, POGO and partners submitted official comments on the OGP, recommending that the U.S. include the establishment of a Presidential Advisory Committee on Open Government (PACOG). Such a committee would not only meet the OGP objective to identify a forum for public participation, but also would allow the U.S. to expand its open government commitments through the products and the practices of the PACOG.
For example, the PACOG’s use of collaboration tools, conflicts of interest rules, transparency, and technology such as webcasts of meetings and social media could serve as a model for other countries, as well as for the other 1,000 or so U.S. advisory committees. Establishing the PACAOG is “the best way to ensure that the government receives unbiased recommendations from a variety of experts and stakeholders in a manner that is transparent and accessible to the public,” according to POGO’s letter to the Obama administration.
Other recommendations from POGO include implementing and providing follow-up to long-standing proposals. Though the OGP offers a new opportunity to advance open government initiatives, POGO and partners have been providing recommendations to the Obama administration since its early days in the White House. These recommendations include, among several others, strengthening whistleblower protections, modernizing the Freedom of Information Act and disclosing communications with officials on procurement and policy.
So far, in terms of providing a space for outside input, the White House has been covering issues related to the OGP on the White House Open Gov Blog. However, “the consensus from the civil society groups we have spoken with is that far more is needed for sustained and real input from experts and the public,” says Canterbury.
On September 20, there were will be a live streaming of the official OGP launch, where the eight OGP Steering Committee governments (the U.S., Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa and U.K) will deliver their action plans, sign a declaration of principles and welcome new country members.
Hopefully, the U.S. national action plan revealed that day will reflect many of the recommendations made by POGO and partners over the past few months and years. In particular, inclusion of a Presidential Advisory Committee on Open Government would signal to civil society in the U.S. and to other countries that openness principles are truly being applied in the U.S. OGP plan. This would go a long way to help fulfill President Obama’s promise to create “unprecedented level of openness in government.”
Dana Liebelson is the POGO Beth Daley Impact Fellow
Image from Pete Souza/The White House