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Agencies Release Open Government Plans

A Freedom of Information Act dashboard, mobile applications on air quality, online scheduling from Social Security, and a community health data initiative are among the initiatives announced.

Federal agencies marked a milestone Wednesday in Obama administration efforts to increase government transparency by unveiling plans to improve the transparency of government operations and data and increase engagement with the public.

The government-wide release of open government plans coincided with a deadline under the Open Government Directive, White House-issued guidance requiring government agencies to take a deep look at and plot out an open government strategy.

On a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Norm Eisen, White House special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, said the White House was thus far "encouraged" by agency efforts, saying that they demonstrated a "hunger to break down walls that have too long stood between the government and the people."

The actual open government plans are largely strategic in nature, outlining how, from organizational and management perspectives, the agencies plan to comply with the spirit of the Open Government Directive. However, on a more tangible front, agencies also announced "flagship initiatives" that are supposed to be representative of the agencies' open government efforts going forward.

For example, the Food and Drug Administration is embarking on a major new public-facing performance measurement initiative called FDA Track that will eventually show the FDA's progress toward meeting its goals on more than 300 measurements across the FDA's numerous constituent groups.

"Our measures are monthly, there are now more of them, and they're really targeted to things we think really matter," Joel Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of the FDA, said in a Webcast announcing the FDA's open government plans. "For a long time, FDA has been seen as a black box. There's the potential with FDA Track to show the public, office by office, exactly what's going on." The FDA also announced that by fall it will release a downloadable, machine-readable data stream of food and drug recalls.

Among the highlights of other open government efforts being announced:

  • The Department of Justice announced a new Freedom of Information Act dashboard that will track FOIA compliance and requests across government, a plan to post significant court filings on its Web site as soon as they are filed, and a public calendar of the attorney general's schedule.

  • The Department of Labor launched a new site detailing enforcement of federal labor laws.

  • The Social Security Administration announced a Spanish-language retirement estimator, an online tool to schedule in-office appointments with Social Security, and an online life expectancy calculator.

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