The Open Government Directive establishes a series of deadlines for agency action demonstrating each agency’s embrace of transparent, participatory, collaborative tools and technologies. The first of these deadlines was last Friday, January 22nd, 2010. According to the Directive ,”Within 45 days [January 22nd, 2010], each agency shall identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets and register those data sets via Data.gov. These must be data sets not previously available online or in a downloadable format.”
The Participation to Data.gov by Agency page on Data.gov shows the number of data sets each agency has posted. As of this morning, 26 agencies have not met the minimum requirement of posting three data sets.
Of more concern, however, is whether the posted data sets meet the requirements that they be “not previously available online or in a downloadable format” and published online in an “an open format.”
The first agency listed on the Agency Participation page is the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). They have posted 1 raw data set and 2 tools. The raw data set consists of an Excel file containing information about fiscal year 2008 FOIA requests. This information has previously been posted in PDF format, available at BBG’s FOIA Annual Reports page. This year it is available as both PDF and Excel. The Excel file essentially consists of topic headers and data tables extracted from the PDF and reformatted to individual sheets within the Excel file.
Though the BBG should be applauded for at least posting something to Data.gov, what they did post doesn’t particularly meet the requirements of the directive. However, the BBG data set reveals not as much about BBG as it does about the challenges facing all agencies as they try to meet the requirements and fulfill the vision of the Open Government Directive.
Chief among those challenges is standardizing on common reporting formats. For instance, the Social Security Administration itself has posted their 2008 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Annual Report to Data.gov. Their data set, however, is posted as a CSV file (a comma-delimited file). Though both the BBG’s and the SSA’s data sets contain similar information, they are sufficiently different, in both format and content, that it would be near impossible to correlate information between the two but through a manual process.
The Open Government Directive does hold great promise to improve government IT and bring Web 2.0 tools and technologies to agencies in a useful way. But the effort will fail without a community of interest growing around tracking agency performance, critiquing where appropriate, and finding solutions to the obstacles uncovered.
I will be making my way through the Agency Participation page over the next few weeks, and reporting accordingly.
The Sunlight Foundation is also tracking the Open Government Directive via the Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group. And, this morning, Federal CIO Vivek Kundra announced on the White House blog that on February 6th the Administration will, “launch a public dashboard to provide an ongoing assessment of the Executive Branch’s progress against the Directive.”
Let me know if you know of other efforts to track agency performance, or if you have any thoughts about agency performance, so far.