The Obama administration is being rightly held to an exacting standard. It promised a new kind of government with transparency as its hallmark, and it's being held to account.

Michael Hickins, Contributor

February 20, 2009

3 Min Read

The Obama administration is being rightly held to an exacting standard. It promised a new kind of government with transparency as its hallmark, and it's being held to account.When President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, mandating gender equality in pay, he was taken to task for failing to allow a public comment period on whitehouse.gov, as he had promised.

Critics duly reported the administration's explanation -- that it was still working out new processes -- but by labeling the gaffe "strike one," they clearly signaled that they were looking for strikes two and three.

Those calls were quick to come.

As promised, the public can track spending mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on a new Web site, Recovery.gov.

But critics immediately attacked the site for failing to allow search engines to crawl it effectively; the complaints were barely published that the carping critics had to issue retractions, as White House techies scrambled to address the issue more quickly than most enterprise IT departments.

I challenge anyone to find an instance of another administration reacting as quickly to calls for accountability.

And lest anyone forget what a government Web site usually looks like, have a gander at the site maintained by the Senate committee on science and technology.

Critics also pounced on the fact that you can't drill down past the top line spending items outlined by the new federal spending bill.

Maybe that's because the agencies charged with spending the monies haven't gotten around to allocating the cash yet -- something already addressed by White House Budget Director Peter Orszag, who issued a 60-page memo this week directing agency heads to report their spending to the Web site.

But this probably won't be enough to quiet critics, who also are likely to argue in favor of leaving everything to the private sector.

There's actually an example of this kind of thing -- funded by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation with health care efficiency as its primary goal.

Its site, WhyNotTheBest.org, tracks the performance of hospitals across the country against a specific set of benchmarks.

It's a particularly relevant example because it's addressing the same kind of issue the stimulus package is intended to achieve in the health care sector -- namely, to introduce efficiency.

While the site is remarkable for all it does -- and anyone who has dealt with the sector knows how difficult it is to collect meaningful data from health providers -- the site's usefulness is limited by the type of information that is publicly available (mainly from Medicare, according to a Commonwealth Fund spokesman).

To put things in perspective, it took the Commonwealth Fund (and its technical contractor, IPRO.org) almost a year and a half from inception to launch of its transparency site, while President Obama has been in office for a month to the day.

Transparency is not just an important goal for President Obama -- it's a paramount goal, if he is to rekindle the public's faith in government.

He also has the vast resources of the federal government at his disposal.

But anyone so quick to criticize the administration's Web-based transparency efforts should be willing to reveal his own hidden agenda. After all, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

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