Web 2.0 Expo: Noveck Cites Open Gov Challenges

The deputy CTO for open government sees progress, but acknowledges push back and resource constraints on the path to transparency.
Government transparency must go beyond posting to a blog here and a Wiki there and calling the result "transparency," Beth Noveck, federal deputy CTO for open government, said Thursday at Web 2.0 Expo in New York.

As part of its transparency push, the federal government needs to get public input sooner in the policy-setting process, Noveck said. "We're going to start at the outset and say, What should our health IT standards be? What should our open government policy be?" she said. Noveck's remarks can in an on-stage conversation with Tim O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly Media, which co-sponsored Web 2.0 Expo with TechWeb.

President Obama issued a memo on "transparency and open government" on his first full day in office, in which he called on federal CTO Aneesh Chopra to develop an Open Government Directive to guide federal agencies. The directive is due for public release any week, but Noveck offered no update on its availability.

As the Obama administration's transparency initiative moves from vision toward action, Noveck said she has noticed a shift in attitude throughout the federal government, while acknowledging push back, resource challenges, and privacy concerns. "Transparency is not always an easy question, and it's not easy to go towards full transparency overnight," she said. "The challenge of course is doing this in practice and making sure we have the tools to do so."

Cost and resource limitations influence what government data is made public and when. "As we start thinking about what data we do not collect that we should be collecting, what data is in paper format and needs to be digitized, what data is available but not easy for people to find, we have to prioritize data that's of the greatest value to people," Noveck said.

Privacy concerns are another factor in what data is made public. Much information, such as White House visitor logs, are laden with personally identifiable information. Such data needs to be scrubbed clean of social security numbers, addresses, and phone numbers.

Noveck, who was recognized by InformationWeek as one of the top IT executives in government, says a shift is underway in terms of how federal agencies think about transparency. The White House last week called a voluntary meeting for agencies interested in using crowdsourcing platforms such as the Transportation Security Agency's IdeaFactory. News of the event spread by word of mouth, with representatives from 30 agencies attending.

InformationWeek Analytics has published a guide to the Open Government Directive and what it means for federal CIOs. Download the report here (registration required).