White House Solicits Ideas for Transparency

05.21.09 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The White House today solicited public recommendations for greater openness in government.

“Members of the public are invited to participate in the process of developing recommendations [by] offering comments, ideas, and proposals about possible initiatives and about how to increase openness and transparency in government,” according to a notice published in the Federal Register today.

“Comments may address law, policy, technology, culture, and practice on issues such as: What government information should be more readily available on-line or more easily searched? How might the operations of government be made more transparent and accountable?… What alternative models exist to improve the quality of decisionmaking and increase opportunities for citizen participation?  What are the limitations to transparency?”  Comments are due by June 19.

This request for public comments itself already represents an advance over past practice, because it is based on an official consensus in favor of increasing openness.  “Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing,” President Obama stated on January 21.  “Public engagement enhances the Government’s effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions,” he said.

These principles, having been affirmed by the President, no longer need to be debated.  Instead, the question is how to realize them in practice.

Today’s Federal Register notice was signed by John P. Holdren, the White House science adviser.  Holdren was formerly a chairman of the Federation of American Scientists and was also, years ago, a professor of mine at UC Berkeley.