White House silence and inaction on open government should prompt review by Open Government Partnership

In November 2021, the White House and GSA hosted the first public meeting on open government of the Biden-Harris administration. Officials affirmed that “open government was a priority” and committed to re-engaging with US civil society to co-create a 5th National Action Plan for Open Government for the Open Government Partnership, which President Obama co-founded with 7 other nations back in 2011.

In December 2021, President Biden told a global open government summit that every nation should “stand with those in civil society and courageous citizens around the world who are demanding transparency of their governments. And let us all work together to hold governments accountable for the people they serve.”

GSA Administrator Carnahan told the rest of the world that the USA would engage a broader set of stakeholders in co-creating a fifth national action plan. The State Department confirmed this week that the 5th national action plan will be led by GSA, with support from the White House.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case in the more than two months since then. It’s mid-February and the Administration has not engaged publicly or privately with the US civil society groups that work on open government as it did for the first 3 action plans.

The Open Government Partnership Secretariat should take note of a year of words without action, place the USA under review, and suspend U.S. participation if there isn’t a sea change in public activity led by the President this next month.

It’s now been over a year since a coalition asked the new administration open questions on open government.

There is still no public response to the letter, nor to the letter a coalition sent to the White House in March calling for presidential action on open government.

There is still no public response to the letters a coalition has sent the Justice Department regarding a memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act memo, which the White House did not comment on, only an acknowledgement of receipt by the Director of the Office of Information Policy at a recent public FOIA meeting.

President Biden made public commitments to transparency and has followed through on tax returns, logs, and other disclosures. He made a down payment on rebuilding good governance across the federal agencies in 2021 after four chaotic years.

But as February 2022, 0 of the 48 recommendations on open government a coalition of good government groups made to the transition have been implemented.

The best time to act on the coalition recommendations was in the first 100 days, or over the first year. The next best time is now & during Sunshine Week in March, when the administration’s record to date will be at the forefront of Congressional attention and media scrutiny.

I hope the President, VP and other White House officials will join the National Archives, Department of Justice, and good government groups across the nation in celebrating freedom of information and upholding the public’s right to know with concrete actions and public commitments in the days andweeks ahead.

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Alex Howard

Dad, writer, citizen, chef, cyclist, skeptical optimist, cereal dilettante. Open government advocate at E-PluribusUnum.org.