Obama Administration Made 'Baby Steps' Toward Open Government: Report

FILE - In this June 28, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, aft
FILE - In this June 28, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, after the Supreme Court ruled on his health care legislation. Worried about the economy? The rising cost of health insurance? The burgeoning federal debt? Yup, the presidential candidates have a bullet point for that. But despite Republican Mitt Romney's 59-point jobs plans, President Barack Obama's 64-page blueprint for change and both candidates' lofty policy speeches, voters still sense something's missing. (AP Photo/The New York Times, Luke Sharrett, Pool, File)

The Obama administration made "baby steps" over the past two years toward government transparency and accountability, according to a study released Tuesday by OpenTheGovernment.org.

In September 2011, the United States formed the Open Government Partnership, an international coalition of governments dedicated to opening up their inner workings to the public. On the day the coalition launched, the Obama administration unveiled a plan with 26 specific goals it hoped to reach by Dec. 31, 2012, as part of a broader effort to make government more open, a tenet of the administration since Obama was sworn in to office.

The study from OpenTheGovernment.org -- a coalition of more than 80 consumer, good government, environmental and labor groups, and others -- found that 19 of the 26 goals have been reached.

Of those, almost all of them have been administrative, including reforming government record management, releasing a government accountability and transparency report, and improving informational government websites like Performance.gov, which provides information about the administration's technology and cyber security initiatives.

However, some of the goals still unmet are also administrative, including the creation of a method with which to measure the performance of the White House petition website, "We The People." Other unmet goals include releasing and reporting information on requirements for foreign aid and successfully declassifying national security information.

In a press release from OpenTheGovernment.org, Executive Director Patrice McDermott stated, "Serious issues remain ... that the government has yet to put on the table but that must be addressed." McDermott listed "government spending transparency, transformation of the classification system, proactive disclosure, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and ethics disclosure" as specific areas where open government groups hope to extend transparency.

While the study commended the administration on taking the "first steps toward addressing critical issues and meeting the larger goals," OpenTheGovernment.org said in its press release that it considered progress still to be very slow. "Progress toward even its own interim goals has been far less dramatic and even halting in some respects," the organization's statement said, adding that "the specific commitments included in the plan do not put the US on a path to accomplish those goals quickly."

In order to reach any broader goals of openness to the public, McDermott says that the Obama administration will need to take a "proverbial giant leap."

Still, McDermott defended the Obama administration's implementation of new open government policies, telling The Huffington Post that the administration has been "very good about working with civil society" and emphasized that "they are very concerned about not having us say that they failed on at least moving the ball forward on being open and accountable."

The study also made note of the fact that "several commitments ... were either already completed, or well underway, when the Plan was released," something McDermott said were kind of just "check-the-box sort of things," including the creation of a National Declassification Center.

Questions of transparency in the Obama administration have increasingly come into question of late, especially regarding the targeted killing of suspected terrorists, including Americans citizens, via drone strikes.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) staged a 13-hour filibuster last week of CIA Director John Brennan's nomination in an effort to force the Obama administration to take a definitive stance on whether or not it had the authority, hypothetically, to kill Americans suspected of being terrorists on U.S. soil without due process.

Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday responded to Paul's filibuster, stating in clear terms that the president doesn't have such authority. And during a recent question-and-answer hosted by Google, Obama promised to be more forthcoming on the issue in February, stating, "What I think is absolutely true is it's not sufficient for citizens to just take my word for it that we're doing the right thing."

When asked whether the administration is likely to address the drone program in its next National Action Plan, McDermott said she was unsure. But she added that she and the 37 civil society organizations will "be encouraging them and putting pressure on them."

In regard to the next plan, the study notes that in order for the the U.S. government to be a world leader in government openness, it "must be willing to think big, and, rather than promising only baby steps, to commit to bold transformative strides."

A second plan to further government transparency is due in fall of 2013, after the next meeting of the Open Government Partnership.



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