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11/8/2010
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U.S., India Partner On Open Government

On his trip to Mumbai, President Obama points to similarities in the open government goals of the U.S. and India, and pledges $1 million in support of public efforts to share best practices.

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The Obama administration yesterday said it will work with the government of India to advance open government initiatives in both countries and to support similar efforts in other parts of the world.

On his trip to Mumbai, President Obama spoke at the Expo on Democracy and Open Government, an event highlighting citizen efforts to promote government accountability. The venue marked the launch of the U.S.-India Open Government Dialogue, which is being led by Aneesh Chopra, CTO of the United States, and Sam Pitroda, innovation advisor to India's Prime Minister.

The Obama administration said it will contribute $1 million toward public efforts to share best practices in working toward improved services and democratic accountability.

Obama pointed to similarities between open government efforts in the United States and India. Both countries are using technology to reach citizens and provide increased transparency about the activities of government, he said.

India may even have an advantage in that it's not hindered by legacy technology and can potentially bring government services online more quickly. "In many ways India may be in a position to leapfrog some of the intermediate stages of government service delivery, avoiding some of the 20th century mechanisms for delivering services and going straight to the 21st," Obama said.

The president visited with the technologists behind some of India's open government efforts, and commended them for their early work in open government.

To promote election reform, for instance, the Association for Democratic Reform has developed an SMS service that lets Indians type in their zip code and obtain a text message providing background information on candidates for public office, according to a White House blog post by Samantha Power, senior director and special assistant for multilateral affairs and human rights.

This use of mobile phones is a more feasible way to spread useful election information in India than posting information on the Web, Power said. While many Indians can't afford PCs, most have mobile phones; the country has 700 million of them, she said.

Still, India also is using the Web to promote political transparency and accountability. Obama also met with a group of people behind a Web site trying to shed light on rampant bribery in the country and help stop it.

Ipaidabribe.com allows Indians to upload videos of their experiences in dealing with this common form of government corruption. The website has received 120,000 hits in 2-1/2 months, according to Power.

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