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2/16/2011
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Open Government May Do More Harm Than Good

A Congressional Research Service report suggests that the expense, information security risks, and workflow disruption may not make the Obama administration's transparency directive worthwhile.

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Congress may want to evaluate the Obama administration's Open Government Initiative to see if it's actually be doing more harm than good, according to a Congressional advisory agency.

A report prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which gives advice to Congress, suggests that there may be negative results from the initiative that Congress should take into consideration. The Federation of American Scientists published the report -- written by CRS analyst Wendy Ginsberg -- online.

Specifically, Ginsberg cited information security concerns, an interruption in government workflow, and the financial burden of the initiative as issues lawmakers may want to examine.

"Congress may find that increased transparency and public attention make the federal government more susceptible to information leaks of sensitive materials," Ginsberg wrote in the report. "Additionally, increased collaboration and participation may make the sometimes slow process of democratic deliberation even slower. Congress may also choose to evaluate the monetary costs associated with implementation of the open government policies."

The report also outlines the memos that led up to the administration's move to be more open and transparent in its activities as one way to foster better engagement with the public.

The Obama administration released the Open Government Directive memo detailing how government agencies should implement the ideas behind the directive on Dec. 8, 2009. The memo was the third in a series outlining how to make the federal government, particularly the executive branch, more open by making more data and information available online about its activities.

The directive has spurred the creation of a host of internal agency policies and work to improve transparency and public engagement. At the executive level, it's behind Web sites such as USAspending.gov, which provides data for where the government is spending money, and Data.gov, which to date has published 308,642 datasets from government agencies.

While the CRS may be slightly skeptical about the benefits of a more open government, U.S. citizens and federal employees largely support the idea of having more data from government agencies, according to a recent survey by Socrata. The 2010 Open Data Benchmark Study found that 68% of U.S. citizens and 93% of federal employees are behind the data transparency aspect of the Obama administration's Open Government Directive.

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