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4/5/2010
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Fed Agencies Ready Open Government Plans

Government agencies must release their plans by Wednesday, when the White House will announce additional guidance.

This week is a big one for open government, as federal agencies must release draft plans by Wednesday for carrying out President Obama's open government and transparency initiative. The administration is also planning a few additional open government announcements.

Wednesday is the deadline for agencies to comply with the Open Government Directive's requirement to prepare and post online plans for becoming more transparent, more engaged with the public, and more collaborative.

Agency plans will address several components: transparency, participation, collaboration, a "flagship initiative" and plans for continued public involvement in the evolution of agency plans. Upon release, agencies will open their plans for public comment.

In terms of transparency, agencies must announce steps they are taking to publish more information online, a plan -- with milestones and specifics -- for releasing data and taking other open government actions, and details of compliance with transparency initiative guidance. Agencies will also have to flesh out proposals for new public feedback mechanisms and proposals to use tech to improve collaboration within the agency and with other federal agencies and the public.

The "flagship initiative" piece of the requirement mandates agencies describe one or more new open government project or initiative that will be a centerpiece of each agency's open government efforts.

The Department of Agriculture last week became the first agency to release its open government plan, in which it highlighted plans for an online contest called Innovations for Health, and for improving the collaborative development of a major new rule for how the U.S. Forest Service (an arm of the USDA) develops land management plans.

It also laid out an oversight structure for managing open government efforts, the possibility of releasing agency leadership's daily schedules and meeting minutes, and a plan to offer incentives for improved collaboration.

The White House itself will also be busy this week, as the Office of Management and Budget is slated to announce federal spending transparency guidelines and changes to rules that critics have said are holding up open government progress.

Specifically, OMB will issue a long-term, comprehensive strategy for federal spending transparency, including new details on how agencies should comply with the Federal Funding Accountability Transparency Act and the transparency clauses of the stimulus act. The guidance will clarify how agencies must measure and report their progress toward data quality goals vis-à-vis spending data.

The OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs will tackle those problematic rules, possibly clarifying and changing compliance guidelines for the Paperwork Reduction Act and limitations on the federal government's use of browser cookies.

The restrictions on federal use of cookies currently amount to a de facto ban, meaning that federal agencies can't personalize their Websites or perform deep analytics on site usage. Current interpretations of the Paperwork Reduction Act, meanwhile, force agencies to go through a months-long process to collect information from citizens, ostensibly for the purpose of decreasing over-reliance on paper forms.

Outside of the requirements of the Open Government Directive itself, OMB is readying a new release of the federal spending transparency Website, USASpending.gov, which government auditors recently found lacking. It's unclear exactly when the new site will be launched, but it will allow citizens to dig deep into government spending by browsing or searching spending by, for example, location, company name or agency and then mapping the results.

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