Chapter 27. Bringing the Web 2.0 Revolution to Government

Gary D. Bass

Sean Moulton

President Barack Obama has promised the most open and transparent government in the history of the United States. Sounds like great news. However, we know from experience that he will run into many barriers. In this chapter, we identify three such barriers, provide suggested solutions, and conclude with an example using federal spending to show how to move transparency into the twenty-first century.

Government Transparency: Three Hurdles

President Obama, on his first full day in office, sent a memo to agency heads saying that his administration will be guided by transparency, increased participation, and improved collaboration. The memo stated that the administration is “committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government,” adding that greater openness “will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.”[184] (See the Appendix A.) Of course, saying this is much easier than achieving it.

Six months into the Obama administration, Maura Reynolds wrote in Congressional Quarterly that, “In practice, the new president’s record on government secrecy and transparency has turned out to be decidedly mixed, with his administration seeming to take as many steps toward shielding government information as it has toward exposing it to the sunshine.”[185] She described one example of the Obama administration refusing to disclose records about coal company executives’ visits to the White House. Since that article was published, the White House has also refused to disclose logs about White House meetings on health care policy.[186] A similar concern has been raised about the Obama administration’s decision to withhold photos of suspected terrorists being interrogated by the U.S. government. In each of these cases, the administration has taken a position that is virtually identical to that of the Bush administration.

Yet by September, after a little more than seven months in office, the Obama administration began to make meaningful changes in transparency policy. On the White House visitor logs, it reversed course and announced that, starting in 2010, the names of nearly all visitors, when they visited, and who they visited will be posted to a website, starting with people who visit the White House complex as of September 15, 2009.[187] No other president has ever agreed to such disclosure. Additionally, in September, the president announced a new policy on state secrets after having been widely criticized as continuing the Bush administration’s policy of claiming a privilege to withhold information from the courts, making it impossible to challenge the government on various actions.[188] The new policy establishes procedures within the administration for providing evidentiary information on the need for the privilege and extensive reviews. According to Attorney General Eric Holder, the new procedures “ensure the state secrets privilege is invoked only when necessary and in the narrowest way possible.”

Even as the Obama administration develops new policies that make the White House more transparent and accountable, the actions are not all that the transparency community has hoped for. The procedures under the state secrets policy have been criticized as a “trust us” approach and as lacking meaningful oversight and judicial review. Some have argued that the disclosure of White House visitor logs should be retroactive and applied to all agencies, not just the White House. While it may be challenging for the Obama administration’s actions to fully satisfy transparency advocates, any significant progress will require overcoming three difficult and intertwining barriers:

  • Current laws and policies on public access are inadequate for today’s 24-hour-per-day, seven-day-per-week Internet-enabled world. Too often, the burden falls on the public to request information, and there are far too many loopholes that allow agencies to withhold information. These policies need radical overhaul.
  • The federal government’s use of interactive technology is largely grounded in the twentieth century. The use of Web 2.0 technology and thinking is only starting to make its way into government via the Obama administration, but the hardware, software, and capacity of public employees need significant upgrades.[189]
  • Even with the best technology and policies, an underlying culture of secrecy pervades government. No civil servant gets rewarded for improving public access, but they do get attention if they give out information that could be misused. Disincentives for openness are built into the way agencies and the whole of government operate. Civil servants need to be given the freedom to disclose information, and they need to be rewarded for doing so.

Changing Policies

When it comes to transparency, many important policy areas need overhaul: the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), whistleblower protections, handling of security-related materials, access to presidential records, and more.

FOIA, which is the backbone of public access today, provides a good example of the importance of each administration’s policy. Memos in 2001 and 2002 from Attorney General John Ashcroft and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card encouraged agencies to aggressively use various FOIA exemptions to withhold information. For example, in handling “sensitive” information, the memos instructed agencies to liberally use FOIA Exemption 2 (Internal Agency Rules), Exemption 4 (Proprietary Information, Trade Secrets), and Exemption 5 (Interagency Memoranda) to withhold information from the public.

The data (see Figure 27-1[190]) shows that these types of policy memos make a big difference in government. Comparing the five years after the Bush administration memos were issued with the previous five years, the number of times Exemption 2 was used to withhold records went up 239%; Exemption 4 went up 46%; and Exemption 5 jumped 72%.

Use of FOIA exemptions in denying requests
Figure 27-1. Use of FOIA exemptions in denying requests

The Obama administration moved quickly to improve FOIA policy (see also Chapter 30). On his first full day in office, the president signed a memo instructing his attorney general to develop new guidelines that put a premium on disclosure. According to the president, “In the face of doubt, openness prevails…. The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public.”[191]

Attorney General Eric Holder followed suit and published guidelines on March 19 that emphasize the new presumption of disclosure.[192] Among other things, Holder’s memo promises to defend agency decisions to withhold information only if the agency demonstrates a reasonably foreseeable risk of harm to an interest protected by FOIA exemptions or statutory law. This represents a 180-degree shift from the Bush administration’s position that the Justice Department would defend agency decisions to withhold information so long as they were made on a sound legal basis.[193]

The Obama administration’s Department of Justice provided additional guidance in a FOIA Post that describes Holder’s guidelines as “a sea change in the way transparency is viewed across government.”[194] The FOIA Post gives agencies specific frameworks within which to interpret FOIA exemptions, with a bias toward disclosure. It also places new emphasis on agency requirements, recognizing that transparency and accountability are inherently linked.

It should be noted that for all of its importance and usefulness, FOIA contains serious flaws and inherent limitations. David Vladeck, an expert on these matters, has noted that “FOIA’s file-a-request-and-wait-for-a-response approach is also an anachronism.”[195] FOIA is a law designed for the paper world functioning in an electronic era. It’s also a requestor-driven law: an individual must file a request for records from the government, and the government, after review, takes action to give or not give the requestor the records. The government’s responsibility under FOIA is to respond to requests for information, not to initiate the publication or dissemination of information. Thus, while improvements in the FOIA policy are essential, much more is needed to alter the fundamental principles under which the government operates.

We need to institute an affirmative obligation on federal agencies to disclose information, what we will call the Right to Know (RTK). Instead of government responding to requests for information, it must initiate the disclosure. In this RTK model, FOIA becomes the vehicle of last resort, not the first tool citizens turn to. It is still an essential tool in promoting transparency, but it becomes part of the safety net of public access. The RTK affirmative disclosure model would create a more open and transparent government in pursuit of a free, permanent public access strategy. While some information would not be disclosed under RTK, the burden to justify withholding information should be a government responsibility, should be set at a high standard, and should be fully disclosed and explained in terms all Americans can understand.

So, how might this new model work? Anytime the government proceeds to collect information, it should presume that the information will be disclosed in a timely and searchable manner. When information is collected, the agency must get approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). These requests, required under the Paperwork Reduction Act, should contain a plan for dissemination of the information being collected or an explanation for why the information cannot be disclosed.

There should be three levels of review for information that agencies seek to withhold. First, the OMB should review these items when it does the paperwork review. Second, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, should also review these decisions to inform Congress about public disclosure in the executive branch. Finally, there should be a citizens’ panel that reviews the actions taken by agencies and the OMB with regard to RTK decisions.

At a minimum, in addition to the affirmative disclosure of all information collection activities, each agency should be required to make basic information publicly available. This includes:

  • A directory of all government employees, job titles, and contact information.
  • A calendar for top-level agency officials (e.g., the secretary, deputy secretary, and assistant secretary).
  • Correspondence logs of top-level agency officials.
  • An index of all information holdings, including those that are not disclosed.
  • A list of all FOIA requests. Any documents released as a result of a FOIA request must automatically be posted to the Web, starting with electronic records.
  • A list of records that will be declassified and the timetable for such action.
  • A list of all Requests for Proposals and a copy of all contracts.
  • A plan for digitizing nonelectronic information (including archival information) and making it publicly accessible.

Deploying Twenty-First-Century Technology

It isn’t enough to fix policy. We also need a Web 2.0 Revolution in government, which includes new thinking and new tools for openness.[196] As the amount and complexity of information increase, it becomes the responsibility of government to not only allow access to information, but also provide tools that enable the public to effectively search, analyze, and understand the information.

This is not an argument for simply throwing open the doors on new media tools. We all know there is a big difference between answering questions in an online town hall and delivering transparency via meaningful government data on the Internet. We are striving for the latter.

In today’s Internet age, agencies must be able to flexibly use web technology and web design that aim to enhance creativity, information sharing, and collaboration among users. Building the government’s capacity to construct, modify, and maintain websites should be a priority for the Obama administration—it will certainly save money even as it gives agencies more flexibility to quickly respond to events.

Another priority for the Obama administration should be to make databases more publicly accessible. Federal agencies should allow commercial search engines to index all government information, whether in databases or not. Government must provide the open programming interfaces to data that allow the public to build upon government information in ways the government cannot do. The information that is provided must also be authoritative and authentic, and the government must vastly improve on the metadata associated with all databases.

Online access is vitiated if the public cannot be assured that the information on the website is equal in authority to the information in an official reading room with hard-copy documents. This is the case with online access to agency regulatory activity, such as is now provided through Regulations.gov. If it is not authoritative—in this case, meaning the complete rule-making document is available—then it will never be useful no matter how wonderful the technology tools may be. Additionally, the public must be assured that the information that is provided is authentic, including that it really was provided by the individual whose name appears on the document.

Appointing the first federal CIO

The new Federal Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, has made improving the public’s access to and ability to use government data a top priority. For example, Kundra launched Data.gov in 2009 as a new and positive effort to make databases more available to the public. The public can search for data in various ways and obtain access through three “tabs”: a data catalog, which provides access to the raw data in whatever format the agency makes available (e.g., XML, CSV, SHP, and KML); a tools catalog, which provides hyperlinks to the database; and a geodata catalog, which provides access to boundaries and other mapped characteristics.

Kundra promised that the website would include more than 100,000 data feeds on a variety of topics by the summer of 2009, and, depending on how data feed is defined, he can argue that has been achieved. (There are more than 100,000 boundary and geocoded files on Data.gov, but few government databases on the website. Moreover, one database, the Toxics Release Inventory, is counted many times, as the database is subdivided into downloads for each state.) But almost all of the databases available on Data.gov were already publicly available through the various agencies, such as the Census. Moreover, some of the larger databases, such as the data housed on USASpending.gov, and older data, such as information from the Toxics Release Inventory before 2005, are not available through Data.gov. Freeing up more databases from the agencies and making the information easily digestible is sure to prove a challenge.

Kundra also played a lead role in the quick establishment of an innovative new transparency tool, the IT Dashboard, that lets users access data on every federal information technology project. It also provides the tools to easily analyze performance of agencies in staying on schedule and on budget, as well as trends in spending over time. The dashboard, which is modeled on a similar project Kundra implemented during his tenure as CIO of Washington, D.C., is part of a redesigned USASpending.gov. The site also allows third parties to download XML versions of the data and potentially develop their own tools for presenting the information or linking it up with other data. The IT Dashboard is a building block for demonstrating how government spending and performance data can be linked together to help the public and government focus on improving performance and wisely spending taxpayer dollars.

Encouraging data mashups

One often overlooked but vital issue in moving government to a Web 2.0 mindset is providing key identifiers that allow accurate data mashups. Without reliable identifiers across databases, outside groups and programmers will not be able to develop their own IT dashboards or other tools to allow easier review and analysis of government information. For instance, the government has data on federal contractors—who gets how much money—but it is nearly impossible to combine and analyze that data with regulatory data from the agencies to assess whether the contractors are complying with federal laws and regulations. The reason it is so hard is that the government does not provide a corporate identifier that the public can use. This means that there will be uncertainty about whether the Acme, Inc., that received a $100 million contract from the federal government is the same Acme, Inc., that violated Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rules. Even with the growing use of semantic technologies, there is a need for government to provide common identifiers.

Changing the Culture Within Government

Even if the policies change to expand the presumption of openness, and even if newer interactive technologies are deployed throughout government, there will still be a need to change the culture of secrecy prevailing in most federal agencies. In his 1997 book covering the results of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote, “Departments and agencies hoard information, and the government becomes a kind of market. Secrets become organizational assets, never to be shared save in exchange for another organization’s assets.… The system costs can be enormous. In the void created by absent or withheld information, decisions are either made poorly or not at all.”[197] While Moynihan was discussing national security information, he could easily have been talking about almost any type of agency information. Agencies approach public access in an elegantly insouciant manner; with few incentives to advocate or promote openness, the path of least resistance is to let information sit behind closed doors. From an agency perspective, who would want to work in a fishbowl of transparency?

Unlike policy or technology changes, assessing a new culture of transparency, or a spirit of government openness, will be difficult to do. As such, the administration should be judged on whether it has established the mindset that makes public access a priority within government. Are there incentives to encourage agency personnel to promote the public’s right to know in their daily work? It will also be important to create mechanisms that deliver the benefits of transparency to government officials and reinforce the new mindset.

Here are several ideas for encouraging civil servants to make transparency an important part of what they do:

  • Create new review processes that deliver feedback on transparency to government officials. This includes making public access and other government openness issues part of formal government employee reviews. If it is clear that promotions and bonuses derive from actively disseminating information to the public, that behavior will be reinforced.
  • Create a review and reporting process in which agencies annually evaluate their performance on transparency, a sort of transparency report card that all agencies fill out.
  • Establish mechanisms for the public to provide better feedback about government actions based on the information being disclosed. For instance, if an online tool such as the Amazon.com five-star rating system allowed the public to indicate their approval or disapproval of programs or spending decisions, then officials would actually benefit from the disclosure. This public assessment should be linked to the agency report card and employee reviews.
  • Building on the report cards and public input, the government could grant awards, given by the White House, for the best agency efforts on transparency. Awards from the White House are coveted, pushing agency staff members to be recognized for good work. This might be done like the Annual Golden Hammer Award, which is a peer-recognition award identifying elite suppliers who support retailer sales, marketing, and partnership efforts. Groups outside government could also provide best and worst awards—sometimes shame works wonders.

There are other ideas for changing the climate within agencies. For example, why not require agencies to announce the public’s transparency rights at the start of public meetings and conferences, on websites, in reading rooms, in libraries, and in other forums? This would be like a Right-to-Know Miranda warning, letting everyone know that they have access to information and that they have certain rights when disclosure failures occur. To complement the RTK Miranda warning, Congress should grant new rights for citizen suits against agencies that fail to comply with basic RTK requirements.

Agency staff members should also be required to attend periodic trainings on RTK issues so that they are familiar with the public’s right to know, as well as the tools they can use to carry out transparency efforts. The mandatory trainings could also result in a certification that signifies a level of understanding in how to disseminate government information.

Putting It All Together: Disclosure of Federal Spending

One key test of the Obama administration’s success in bringing government transparency into the twenty-first century will be how the White House and agencies handle the disclosure of government spending. The emphasis on government spending was elevated by passage of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly called the Recovery Act. Of Recovery Act spending, Obama promised “…every American will be able to go online and see where and how we’re spending every dime.”[198] The Recovery Act’s website, Recovery.gov, will be the test case for the administration’s approach to achieving government transparency online.

The administration may be underestimating the challenge before it in this test case. USASpending.gov, a searchable website of nearly all government spending required by the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006,[199] may offer some insight into the awaiting difficulties. The law, which was cosponsored by Sens. Barack Obama and Tom Coburn, was hailed by conservatives, libertarians, and progressives as revolutionary in vision and for breaking out of the antiquated FOIA file-a-request approach by requiring affirmative dissemination of nearly all government spending on an ongoing basis. But while USASpending.gov delivered on better and faster access to information regarding who gets how much money from the government, the project revealed several glaring weaknesses. Chief among those weaknesses was data quality, including accuracy and timeliness of the information. The site also failed to deliver on a requirement to post information about subawards by January 1, 2009. Given USASpending.gov has been unable to report on subcontracts and subgrants, it seems dubious that the president’s promise regarding the Recovery Act can be fulfilled without a radical overhaul in how reporting and disclosure is done.

In order to ensure that Recovery Act spending is fully transparent, the government and the public should have access not only to data about who is getting money, but also to data about what they are doing with those funds—and the public should also be able to easily access and understand that information. It is quite likely that there will be bumps in the road with Recovery Act transparency, lots of frustration with implementation, and problems with data quality. Some will criticize Recovery.gov either for its cost or for services (or both), and some will knock the administration for not having the data to demonstrate how Recovery Act funds have helped to spark economic recovery and investment in a sustainable future. Yet the efforts that are being undertaken to build Recovery.gov can serve as important building blocks for a new paradigm in reporting and disclosure for annual federal spending initiatives.

Building on the policies, technologies, and cultural changes we talked about earlier in this chapter, there are three factors to consider for effective spending transparency. We will use the context of the Recovery Act, but the ideas can and should also be applied to annual government spending activities through USASpending.gov.

Policy Changes to Get Deeper Information on Recipients

Americans have a right to know how and where public dollars are being spent, but the information on USASpending.gov takes you only so far because of limitations in reporting requirements. Significant policy changes are needed for the reporting and oversight of the use of public funds. Without sufficient transparency, pay-to-play scandals and corruption are endemic to large federal expenditures. Proper choices in transparency policy will help mitigate this by tracking the money further and making it more difficult for less scrupulous operators to abuse the system.

The good news is that for the first time, the federal government is instituting a policy that requires those receiving financial assistance (e.g., grants, loans, insurance) and contracts under the Recovery Act to report directly on the use of those funds. The bad news is that the new policy requires only prime recipients and one level of subrecipients to report (see Figure 27-2). This means that if a grant is made to a state, and the state provides a subaward to a city, the public will know about the activities of each party. However, if the city subcontracts the money to several companies to carry out the work—a likely scenario—the public will not know who received the money or what they did with it.[200] Thus, the public will not know whether the money went to a mayor’s brother-in-law as a special favor or to a company that won it through a competitive bidding process. For those interested in improving the quality of government programs, there won’t be data to show who the service provider was or what the provider did with the funds.

Who will be reporting? New Recovery Act guidance
Figure 27-2. Who will be reporting? New Recovery Act guidance

Recipients of Recovery Act funds are required to report on the spending through a new website called FederalReporting.gov, but three policy mistakes have created significant weaknesses in the process.

First, prime recipients are allowed to delegate reporting on FederalReporting.gov to subrecipients, but this is not required. (The prime recipient cannot, however, delegate reporting on estimating the number of jobs created.) The policy should require each recipient and subrecipient, regardless of tier, to report directly to the federal government—and there should be a clear system to identify the original source of the funds to avoid confusion and double-counting.

Second, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board—also known as the Recovery Board—which oversees Recovery Act implementation is not responsible for making certain that the recipient data is accurate. Instead, the law requires a 20-day error correction window for reporters and federal agencies. Twenty days is simply not enough time for improving data quality. Moreover, there are no penalties for errors or for nonreporting.

Third, there should be clear, concise definitions for each reporting field. Unfortunately, when it comes to the fields dealing with jobs, the government punted. It told recipients to estimate the number of full-time equivalent jobs created, but left it to each recipient to define what a full-time equivalent is.

Using Technology to Make Recovery Act Data Accessible, Understandable, and Usable

Information submitted to government should take place through publicly visible channels, as should information produced by federal agencies. Agencies that withhold information—either intentionally or unintentionally—feed a perception that government is hiding something. In some cases, this requires a radical overhaul in the way government perceives its role; call it a Web 2.0 Revolution. It is not simply about employing twenty-first-century technology tools; it is also about embracing a distributed, open standards mindset.

For the Recovery Act, this means government must not only provide a robust, searchable website, but also provide the underlying data in machine-readable formats that allow developers to create their own websites and uses of the data. This data cannot be provided in aggregated form; instead, the data must provide information about each grant and contract, as well as information about the flow of federal funds from these grants and contracts to various tiers of subrecipients.

From a user perspective, there should be a simple user interface that allows people to search, filter, and download data. There should be data visualization tools that allow users to not only map information, but also conduct analyses. An essential element to designing the website is to get viewpoints of different types of users and to design it with both the novice and professional in mind.

From a developer’s perspective, there should be an open architecture that allows people to design their own applications. Developers should be able to access source feeds via download, via RESTful web service discovery, via Atom or RSS feeds, or via an open reporting language (e.g., XBRL). This capability will allow other government agencies or nongovernmental organizations to create mashups using authoritative Recovery.gov data. As the government provides data through machine-readable feeds and through its own website, it also needs to synchronize the underlying data so that the public does not become confused.

Designing the website and other tools from these perspectives will reflect the Obama administration’s mantra of transparency and openness. It uses technology to foster a sense of community while not escaping responsibility. It also greatly enhances the potential of any government site. Instead of limiting the site’s development to a small set of contracted professionals, it opens it up to a new realm of solutions and creative insights.

As described earlier, all recipients and subrecipients of federal funds should report directly to a website on spending and performance. Additionally, all entities that will spend federal funds should be required to register in a federal registry that provides common information about the entity, including entity and parent identifiers. Figure 27-3 presents the model as applied to annual spending beyond Recovery Act funds.

Building on the Recovery Act: a new reporting and transparency system
Figure 27-3. Building on the Recovery Act: a new reporting and transparency system

Changing the Culture to Emphasize Effectiveness, Performance, and Equity

The long-standing practice in reporting on government spending has been to present an accurate spreadsheet about who got the money, what it was for, and when it was spent. While these are certainly important facts about spending, government must go further and start connecting the spending to other data to answer more difficult questions about effectiveness, performance, and equity.

The federal government must begin to think about spending in a broader context and link spending data with four types of content:

Needs data
Is the money going where the need is? For example, if money was supposed to go to rural areas, did it? If it was to be used for low-income populations or to address equity issues, was it?
Jobs data
Estimates should be provided by all reporting recipients on the number of jobs created, saved, or lost. There should be uniform definitions and actual numbers, not estimates, where possible. There should also be related data, including wages, benefits, and demographics.
Performance data
Performance data should allow the public to see agreed-upon benchmarks and whether the recipient of the funds is reaching those benchmarks. The issue is not simply who is getting how much money, but whether the money is being used effectively. Having this data leads to a discussion about how to improve the quality of government services and activities. Also, equity issues need to be addressed, including race, class, gender, and disability.
Requests for proposals and contracts
Regardless of whether a federal contract was given by the federal, state, or local government (through a subcontract), there should be a copy of the request for proposal, information on whether the contract was awarded through open competition, and a copy of the actual contract.

Carefully tracking expenditures will allow the public to judge the effectiveness of public investments only if data on the performance of entities that undertake Recovery Act projects is included alongside basic spending data. This would help to answer the fundamental question of what we got for our money. Linking performance data with spending information creates new opportunities for dialogue about improving the quality of government programs and eliminating programs that continue to fail.

Including performance data would be a change from simply tracking expenditures, but we need an even greater shift in how the government conceives of effective spending. All too often, key equity metrics—such as race, gender, economic status, age, and disability—are overlooked when measuring against benchmarks. In the case of the Recovery Act, equity metrics are essential to measuring success and need to be given greater prominence.

Unfortunately, there is no mechanism for collecting performance information from those who receive federal funds. Under the Recovery Act, the prime recipient is required to provide estimates of jobs saved or created, including estimates for its subrecipients one tier below. There is no definition of a job (e.g., 30 hours or 40 hours per week), and there is no supplemental information such as the level of wages paid, whether benefits are provided, or who got the jobs. Regarding program implementation, there is no information about performance that is to be collected.

Conclusion

There is great reason to be optimistic about improving government transparency. President Obama strongly supports openness and accountability in government and has said that he wants government to be more transparent, participatory, and collaborative. The growth of Web 2.0 and 3.0 tools and ideas is advancing rapidly, making the vision for openness more of a reality than the promises of vaporware.

Creating an affirmative obligation to make government information available to the public should not be considered as the ultimate endgame, however. Rather, it is a means for empowering the public to become more engaged in government, to rekindle the spirit of “We the people.” Fulfilling the public’s right to know is about government accountability, improving the quality of government programs, and creating an informed citizenry.

Even though the cards seem stacked in favor of greater government transparency, achieving this goal will not be easy. This chapter described some challenges, if not barriers, to success. This is precisely why now is the time to work hand in hand—conservatives, libertarians, and progressives—to forcefully advocate for change. We have a window of opportunity, and we need to seize the moment.

About the Authors

Gary D. Bass is the founder and executive director of OMB Watch, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that promotes greater government accountability and transparency and increased citizen participation in public policy decisions. He is well known for assisting nonprofit organizations in better understanding federal rules affecting their groups and constituencies, and in 2003 he created NPAction.org as a one-stop website on building nonprofit advocacy. He is also a coauthor of the 2007 book Seen but not Heard: Strengthening Nonprofit Advocacy, published by the Aspen Institute.

Sean Moulton has served OMB Watch since early 2002, as director of federal information policy with special attention on environmental information and right-to-know issues. Interestingly, one of Sean’s first jobs was environmental researcher and data manager for the Council on Economic Priorities (CEP), manipulating and analyzing the information that is disseminated under the policies he now advocates. Sean’s work at CEP focused on evaluating and reporting on individual corporate environmental policies and performance.



[188] See http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2009/September/09-ag-1013.html for the Department of Justice press statement and http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/documents/state-secret-privilieges.pdf for the policies and procedures.

[189] For example, on July 31, 2009, the Department of Defense launched the Web 2.0 Guidance Forum to discuss use of new media. Another example is that the Obama administration launched a Federal Web Sites Cookie Policy Forum that closed on August 10, 2009.

[190] Source: OMB Watch analysis of data from Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, “An Opportunity Lost: An in-depth analysis of FOIA performance from 1998 to 2007,” July 3, 2008.

[195] “Information Access—Surveying the Current Legal Landscape of Federal Right-to-Know Laws,” David C. Vladeck, 86 Texas Law Review, 1787, June 2008.

[196] While we use the term Web 2.0 throughout this paper, we use the term loosely. For example, when using the term we also mean to include Web 3.0, sometimes called the Semantic Web. If Web 2.0 can transform the way people network and interact with their government, Web 3.0 can revolutionize the way government data is handled and presented to the public.

[197] Secrecy: The American Experience, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Yale University Press, 1999.

[198] President Obama’s first prime time news conference, February 9, 2009.

[200] The public will know the identity of subrecipient vendors that receive more than $25,000, but not those entities that receive subawards from the subrecipient; that is, the ultimate recipient.