analyzing scholarly writing
American Review of Public Administration 2017, Vol. 47(2) 155 –171
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The “Open Government Reform” Movement: The Case of the Open Government Partnership and U.S. Transparency Policies*
Suzanne J. Piotrowski1
Abstract Open government initiatives, which include not only transparency but also participation and collaboration policies, have become a major administrative reform. As such, these initiatives are gaining cohesiveness in literature. President Obama supported open government through a range of policies including the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a multinational initiative. The OGP requires member organizations to develop open government national action plans, which are used as the basis for my analysis. To frame this paper, I use and expand upon David Heald’s directions and varieties of transparency framework. A content analysis of the 62 commitments in the US Second Open Government National Action Plan was conducted. The analysis provides two findings of note: First, the traditional view of transparency was indeed the most prevalent in the policies proposed. In that respect, not much has changed, even with the OGP’s emphasis on a range of approaches. Second, openness among and between agencies played a larger than expected role. While the OGP pushed an array of administrative reforms, the initiative had limited impact on the type of policies that were proposed and enacted. In sum, the OGP is an administrative reform that was launched with great fanfare, but limited influence in the US context. More research needs to be conducted to determine if the “open government reform” movement as a whole suffers from such problems in implementation.
Keywords open government reform, transparency, Open Government Partnership, federal agencies
Transparency initiatives have been promoted intensively during the last 15 years as tools to legitimize the state and make bureaucracies more accountable (Fukuyama, 2014; Roberts, 2006). These transparency initiatives, at the national and subnational levels, are propagating around the globe. Open government initiatives, which include not only transparency but also participation and collaboration policies, have become a major administrative reform. As such, these initiatives
*This article was commissioned and evaluated by the previous editors, Guy Adams and John Thomas, before and independent of the decision to move ARPA’s editorial responsibilities to Rutgers University-Newark, where the author holds her academic affiliation.
1Rutgers University-Newark, NJ, USA
Corresponding Author: Suzanne J. Piotrowski, Deputy Dean and Associate Professor, School of Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers University-Newark, 111 Washingston Street., Newark, NJ 07102-326, USA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
676575 ARPXXX10.1177/0275074016676575American Review of Public AdministrationPiotrowski research-article2016
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are gaining cohesiveness in literature (Meijer, Curtin, and Hillebrandt, 2012). The initiation of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) is likely one of the reasons for the increasingly large number of initiatives that are explicitly linked to the values of transparency and openness. Although not all credit can be due to the OGP, at least some of these initiatives can be attributed to the organization’s leadership and incentives. Much of the governmental transparency literature addresses issues such as the passage of relevant laws, correlations of transparency policies, and important concepts such as trust. Within this article, however, I approach the issue from a differ- ent angle. I want to better understand the nature of transparency and openness initiatives which are proposed, and the OGP presents an excellent means to accomplish this aim.
As one of the founding members of the OGP, the United States participates in the process of developing national commitments to promote the values of transparency, openness, public par- ticipation, and technology and innovation. President Barack Obama spearheaded the OGP and made a major push, at least rhetorically, for more transparency in the United States (Coglianese, 2009). With this backdrop, I use and build upon David Heald’s directions and varieties of trans- parency framework to analyze the commitments in the U.S. Second Open Government National Action Plan. Using this analysis, I attempt to answer the following question: What can we learn about the nature of open government initiatives in the United States through the application of the directions and varieties of transparency framework?
Transparency as a Value
Transparency itself has been so fully embraced in some countries; it has been argued that it is now a regime value in some political contexts (Piotrowski, 2014; Rohr, 1989). With respect to the performance of public organizations, transparency has been described as a “non-mission based” or “mission extrinsic” public value. Piotrowski and Rosenbloom (2002) identified non-mission- based values as “democratic-constitutional values, including representation, participation, trans- parency, and individual rights” that are not part of an agency’s “results-oriented calculus” (p. 643). Koppell (2003) drew a similar distinction between agency activities which are “mission related” and those which are broader “non-mission preferences” that concern “the manner in which an agency pursues its policy objectives” (pp. 72-73). Blending these two approaches, Rosenbloom (2014, p. 18) and Baehler, Liu, and Rosenbloom (2014) defined “mission extrinsic public values” as values that
(1) do not support achieving the central purpose, core activities, and raison d’être of agencies and programs; (2) are unrelated to an agency’s specialized competencies and technologies; (3) promote preferences that are extraneous to organizational missions and may even impede them; (4) are imposed across all agencies in one-size-fits-all fashion that is not strategically tailored to individual missions; and (5) are not necessarily supported by agency leaders and personnel.
Based on these definitions, implementing transparency policies and laws, such as a freedom of information act or an open public meetings law, would be mission extrinsic to most public agen- cies. As a counterpoint, the National Archives and Records Administration is the only U.S. fed- eral agency to have transparency explicitly included in its mission.
Transparency literature is distinguished for two main perspectives: transparency as a founda- tion of democracy (i.e., intrinsic value) and transparency as a means to attain other objectives (i.e., instrumental value). The first perspective, transparency as an intrinsic value, is summarized as “a right to know,” and as such is embodied in freedom of information, right-to-know, and open meetings laws. These laws have proliferated globally over the last 25 years (Blanton, 2002; Roberts, 2006). In the broader context of democratic practices, the spread of these laws is seen as an initiative to promote accountability in the public sector (Birkinshaw, 2006; Blanton, 2002; Piotrowski, 2007; Roberts, 2000, 2006).
Transparency can be seen as an intrinsic value of good governance, although it is also studied as an instrument to improve other goals of public organizations. Ben Worthy (2010) stated, “Transparency could create a virtuous circle of increased legitimacy, democratic participation and trust that could be the breakthrough that eventually brings about a dynamic change in the govern- ment, politics, and even ‘shape’ of a nation” (pp. 562-563). This line of reasoning purports that public organizations “use” transparency to reach other intrinsic values associated with democracy and good governance, such as improving public scrutiny, promoting accountability, reducing cor- ruption, eradicating unethical behavior, enhancing legitimacy, increasing commitment, restoring trust in public action, and increasing public participation (e.g., Hood & Heald, 2006).
Increasing transparency and democratic accountability is generally promoted as a tool to strengthen state capacity. The political theorist Francis Fukuyama (2014) explained, “[t]his theory assumes that if voters have good information about public officials who are corruptor incompetent, they will use the power of the ballot to throw them out of office” (p. 484). He concludes, though, that the “proliferation of formal accountability mechanisms” or “absolute government transparency” is not necessarily the solution to improving democratic accountability (Fukuyama, 2014, p. 499).
Again much of the literature related to instrumental transparency presumes the promotion of democratic and good governance values, but this link is not clear in public administration litera- ture. In some cases, transparency as a value is conflated with these other democratic goals, such as reducing corruption (Piotrowski, 2014). Some scholars have purported limits or negative con- sequences from transparency policies in practice (Fox, 2007; Grimmelikhuijsen & Welch, 2012; Prat, 2005; Roberts, 2012). In one early example, John Rohr was concerned about the balance between public employees’ individual privacy and the public’s interest in learning about their financial transactions and relationships. He attacked the concept of full disclosure to the detri- ment of public employees’ personal privacy:
A transitive verb without a direct object is a cannon rolling free on the deck of public argument; anything can become its target. Loose talk about an indiscriminate “right to know” can be quickly transformed into a “duty to disclose.” Disclose what? Presumably, everything the public has a right to know, but who is going to say there are some things about public servants that the public should not know? (Rohr, 1998, p. 47)
Rohr concludes that decision makers should limit the application of disclosure policies on public employees to areas that are most susceptible to abuse (Rohr, 1998). Recently, it has been found that transparency may negatively affect government legitimacy when a policy area is sub- ject to a high degree of controversy (de Fine Licht, 2014).
Transparency has been conceptualized differently by a variety of scholars (see Michener & Bersch, 2013). I find Albert Meijer’s (2013) definition the most compelling and intuitive: “Transparency as the availability of information about an actor that allows other actors to moni- tor the workings or performance of the first actor” (p. 430). Once settling on a definition of transparency, one is still left with the task of understanding the different elements of transpar- ency. Heald’s (2006) book chapter, “Varieties of Transparency,” does an excellent job of catego- rizing transparency policies. These categories are informative, clear, and discrete. He organizes his discussion in direction of transparency and varieties of transparency. I present the four variet- ies described by Heald below and then add one more to the typology.
Directions of Transparency
Heald offers four directions of transparency: upward, downward, outward, and inward. He con- ceived transparency upward “in terms either of hierarchical relationships or of the principal–agent
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analysis that underlies much economic modelling. Transparency upwards means that the hierar- chical superior/principal can observe the conduct, behaviour, and/or ‘results’ of the hierarchical subordinate/agent”(Heald, 2006, p. 27). In sum, transparency flows upward. Those at top of orga- nization can see what those below are doing.
Heald defines transparency downward as “when the ‘ruled’ can observe the conduct, behav- iour, and/or ‘results’ of their ‘rulers.’ The rights of the ruled in relationship to their rulers figure prominently in democratic theory and practice, often under the umbrella of ‘accountability’” (Heald, 2006, p. 27). In sum, transparency flows downward. Those at the bottom of an organiza- tion can see what those at the top are doing.
Transparency outward is defined as “when the hierarchical subordinate or agent can observe what is happening ‘outside’ the organization. The ability to see outside is fundamental to an orga- nization’s capacity to understand its habitat and to monitor the behaviour of its peers and/or competitors” (Heald, 2006, p. 28). In sum, transparency flows from the outside in. Those in the organization can see the external context and behavior of peers.
Transparency inward is when “those outside can observe what is going on inside the organiza- tion . . . Transparency inwards has the connotation of surveillance and being watched by peers. . . Much discussion of privacy involves setting limits on transparency inwards” (Heald, 2006, p. 28). Transparency flows from the inside outward. Those outside of the organization can observe what is going on inside the organization.
Whereas Heald offers four directions of transparency, I argue that there is one more: transpar- ency laterally. Transparency flows laterally from one part of the organization to another. Unlike transparency upward and downward, which represent transparency within one organization and hierarchical relationships, transparency laterally is between peer organizations. These organiza- tions or agencies are usual part of a larger organizational structure. An example is when one U.S. federal agency shares information with one or more other agencies.
Varieties of Transparency
Heald further offers four different ways of conceptualizing varieties of transparency: event versus process transparency, transparency in retrospect versus real time, nominal versus effec- tive transparency, and timing of the introduction of transparency. Within this article, and the subsequent analysis, I only focus on the first two varieties. I chose not to use the latter two varieties of transparency (nominal vs. effective and time of the introduction of transparency) due to a lack of supporting information in the U.S. National Action Plan to code for these categories.
The first variety Heald presents is event versus process transparency. Events are points which are externally visible—either inputs, outputs, or outcomes. Heald (2006) concluded that “for the focus to be solely on event transparency, the inputs, outputs, and outcomes have to generate mea- surements sufficiently credible to keep political attention focused on performance issues and not on the measurement system itself” (p. 31). Processes are rules, regulations, and procedures adopted by an organization and the applications of these rules. Heald (2006) told us, “Transparency of process may sometimes be damaging to efficiency and effectiveness, because it directly con- sumes resources and because it induces defensive behaviour in the face of what is perceived as oppressive surveillance” (p. 31).
The second variety is transparency in retrospect versus transparency in real time. These variet- ies deal with when information is released. Transparency in retrospect is when an organization, at periodic intervals, releases information relevant to its performance. Transparency in real time is when the internal processes of the organization are continuously disclosed.
The Open Government Partnership
Formed in September 2011, the OGP, a multilateral initiative that currently has 701 participating countries, is guided by the principles of transparency, accountability, citizen participation, tech- nology and innovation. The OGP was spearheaded by President Obama with strong support from the United Kingdom’s Prime Minster David Cameron. The partnership was a logical extension of the Open Government Directive, as well as other U.S. policies initiated under President Obama. Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, and South Africa joined the United States and the United Kingdom as founding members.
The OGP is overseen by an elected, international Steering Committee made up of individuals representing nine participating governments and nine civil society organizations (CSOs).2 In this context, CSOs are nongovernmental organizations that are active in a related policy area in one country or across countries. Examples of active CSOs include Access Info Europe, the International Budget Partnership, the Open Democracy Advice Centre, Results for Development, Transparency International, and the World Resource Institute.
The OGP model of governance is unique with the sharing of power between government and civil society representatives. This shared, collaborative governance model mirrors the values of participation and collaboration, which member countries endorse. Although the OGP is an inde- pendent body, it does have partnerships with four multinational institutions: the World Bank Group, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the United Nations Development Programme.
Countries within the OGP agree to be more open, accountable, and responsive to their citi- zens. To be eligible to join, countries must earn at least 75% of possible points in four areas on a composite index comprised of secondary data. The four categories assessed and their related data set are
•• Fiscal Transparency (Open Budget Survey), •• Access to Information (Access to Information Laws), •• Public Officials Asset Disclosure (World Bank Public Officials Financial Disclosure), and •• Citizen Engagement (Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index 2012).
There are 28 countries that meet the OGP eligibility requirements, but are not participating OGP members (OGP, 2015c). In 2016, two countries, Turkey and Azerbaijan, were both made inactive by the OGP Steering Committee. Turkey has failed to deliver a National Action Plan since 2014, and Azerbaijan had documented threats against CSOs (Publish What Your Pay, Civicus, and Article 19) operating in the country (OGP, 2016; OGP Support Unit, 2016).
To become a member of OGP, participating countries must endorse a high-level Open Government Declaration, deliver a country action plan developed with public consultation, and commit to independent reporting on their progress going forward. The Independent Reporting Mechanism3 (IRM) requires biannual independent progress reports for each participating coun- try. The progress reports do three things: (a) assess each government on the development and implementation of its action plan, (b) track progress in fulfilling open government principles, and (c) make specific technical recommendations for improvements for the next national action plan.
This reporting scheme is essentially a performance management appraisal system of the national governments with respect to open government policy implementation. Of note, the pri- mary focus of this performance management scheme is to track the implementation of programs embodying values (e.g., transparency, participation, and collaboration), which are usually mis- sion extrinsic.
The IRM is overseen by an international experts panel and not directly accountable to the larger OGP Steering Committee. Although the National Action Plan and subsequent reporting
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and assessing functions make a great deal of data available to the public, they are not without problems. For one, how to fit national election cycles into the biannual plan development process has proved complicated. Recently, the OGP’s focus has moved, if only slightly, to focus on sub- national governments. There is a pilot program to develop subnational government action plans. The City of Austin, Texas, is one such entity participating in this pilot (Subnational Government Pilot Program, n.d.). It is not yet clear how the OGP will evolve over time to accommodate the expanding scope and the broader organizational implications.
Other key components of the OGP are the focuses on public consultation and peer learning. Country stakeholder participation in the development of national action plans is required. Peer learning among countries is facilitated through regional and global conferences, thus bringing together country and civil society representatives.
OGP’s 2014 budget was US$3.37 million, with 33% of its contributions from governments, 21% from bilateral aid agencies, and 46% from foundations. In 2014, the private donor list con- sisted of the Ford Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and the Open Society Foundation. The governments which gave money to OGP in 2014 were the initial eight founding members, plus Tanzania. Three bilateral aid agencies also donated: the Department for International Development (the United Kingdom), the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (the United Kingdom). Google was the only corpora- tion listed as contributing to OGP in 2014 (OGP, 2015a). There has been a recent push for mem- ber countries to contribute to the operating budget of the OGP with 25 member countries contributing in 2015.
U.S. Transparency Initiatives and Second National Action Plan
On his first day in office, President Obama (2009) signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. Regardless, the Obama administration then took the initiative further. On December 8, 2009, the White House issued the Open Government Directive requiring federal agencies to take immediate, specific steps to achieve key milestones in transparency, participa- tion, and collaboration (Orszag, 2009). The U.S. government is still implementing the Open Government Directive. How the key values of transparency, participation, and collaboration are being operationalized and turned into policies and practices is still evolving as the political con- text and technologies change. As part of the Open Government Directive, agencies are supposed to set forth those steps in their biennial Open Government Plans and make them available on their Open Government websites.
As a point of clarification, while the Open Government Directive was an inward facing initia- tive that affected U.S. federal agencies, the OGP is the multinational platform of which the United States is a member. In 2011, first U.S. Open Government National Action Plan, as required by the OGP, was released by the Obama administration.
It included a total of 26 commitments. Most of the commitments, 24, were completed to some degree by end of a 2-year cycle. By way of example, the White House frequently highlights its We the People (petitions.whitehouse.gov) petitions platform. This platform allows individuals to raise concerns to the administration via online petitions. Once a target number of signatures is reached (currently 100,000 signatures in 30 days) on an individual petition, it triggers an auto- matic response from the White House. It should be noted, though, petitions can be on any topic and do not have to be in the purview of the federal government. Nonetheless, the White House is obligated to respond to all petitions. What this means in practice is that the petitions could be on anything from the serious to the frivolous (including the recent petition for President Obama to make the One Direction song “History” his anthem for his final year in office), but still require a response if triggered.
The Second U.S. National Action Plan (Office of Science and Technology Policy White House, 2013) ran from January 1, 2014, to December 31, 2015. Participation and development of the Second National Action Plan included the general public, CSOs, academia, and the private sector. Although there was a great deal of informal participation with the White House, it was not highly structured. The ongoing dialogues with civil society members were largely driven by a highly professional and organized coalition managed by Openthegovernment.org. Participation in the development of the Second National Action Plan came mainly from inside the Washington, D.C., beltway, with individuals and groups outside of this geographic area largely left out of the process because of the difficulty in accessing these groups. Although the primary set of second national action commitments was initially released, an addendum with 13 additional commit- ments was released at a United Nations event in September 2014. (Commitments from the adden- dum are noted as such in the appendix.)
The Second National Action Plan consists of 62 commitments covering a wide range of topics including public participation, record management, Freeedom of Information Act (FOIA), secu- rity classification, Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI), privacy, whistle-blowing, open data, Challenge.gov, Performance.gov, transparency of legal entities formed in the United States, foreign assistance, and visa sanctions. The appendix includes a list of all commitments. The U.S. government decided to take an inclusive approach developing its National Action Plans, includ- ing the solicitation of proposed commitments from federal agencies. As such, the number of commitments grew quite large, compared with other countries’ plans. A different, and possibly more effective, approach would have been to limit the number and breadth of commitments, and to focus resources on those initiatives. The United States finished implementing the Second National Action Plan on December 31, 2015, and is now onto its Third National Action Plan.
As with open government policies generally in the United States, the Second National Action Plan focused heavily on both technology and open data. A broad range of substantive commit- ments were included, but there were four substantive areas not adequately represented in the Second National Action Plan: trade policy negotiations, access to justice and civil right issues, ethics and integrity of governance, and state and local government open government.
Trade policy negotiation is an area that is ripe for greater transparency. While business and labor are represented on the related advisory committees, the general public is not. It is argued that
public involvement and transparency in current U.S. trade negotiations is especially important because, the negotiations address potentially controversial regulatory issues. Trade negotiators may benefit from increased trust in the negotiations as well as greater credibility and creative thinking from public involvement. (Aaronson, 2015)
Although the United States has recently initiated new programs on data, justice, and civil rights (Smith & Austin, 2015), there are few commitments with this focus in the Second National Action Plan. The September 2014 addendum did include commitments that deal with big data, privacy, law enforcement, and discrimination, but there is more to be done here.
One of the organizing goals, or grand challenges, of the OGP is “Increasing Public Integrity— measures that address corruption and public ethics, access to information, campaign finance reform, and media and civil society freedom” (IRM, 2013 p. 23). Although some of the commit- ments fall under this category in the Second National Plan, as in the First National Action Plan, there was little emphasis on the public sector.
Open government is growing at the state and local levels in the United States, but little of this is included in the Second National Action Plan. There was only one commitment that dealt with a subnational issue (participatory budgeting). Of note, transparency at the subnational govern- ment is a growing focus of OGP generally.
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Table 2. Coding Guidelines for Directions of Transparency.
Upward Transparency flows upward. Those at top of organization can see what those below are doing.
Downward Transparency flows downward. Those at bottom of organization can see what those at top are doing
Outward Transparency flows from outside in. Those at bottom of organization can see the external context and behavior of peers.
Inward Transparency flows from inside out. Those outside of the organization can observe what is going on inside the organization.
Lateral Transparency flows laterally from one part of the organization to another. None No indication of one of the above directions of transparency.
The U.S. government is required to provide a self-assessment report on its progress in fulfill- ing the commitments in the Second National Action Plan halfway through its implementation. The self-assessment report was published in March 2015 and indicated status reports as of December 31, 2014.
Table 1 presents the categorizations for level of completion (limited, substantial, and com- pleted) provided by the White House. In a few instances, more than one level of completion was noted in the self-assessment. When this occurred, the lesser of the two was used. Just more than half of the 62 commitments were indicated as completed by the U.S. government. The findings from of the IRM midterm assessment of the Second National Action Plan are also in Table 1.
The independent assessment found that less than half of the commitments were completed half- way through the National Action Plan cycle. It should be noted that the majority of commitments were not expected to be completed by the end of 2014, but rather by the end of 2015. In 2016, reports will be released by the OGP and the U.S. government as to the final status of these commitments.
Data and Method
A content analysis of the 62 commitments in the Second U.S. National Action plan was com- pleted. Table 2 shows the guiding principles used to code the directions of transparency. I used my background knowledge of the case studies and knowledge of the literature to determine the pri- mary direction of transparency associated with these commitments. Because some of the commit- ments included multiple action points, some subjectivity was involved in identifying the primary direction and coded accordingly. Commitments are coded based on whether they accomplished the directional transparency and whether they facilitated it. Table 3 shows the guidelines used to code the varieties of transparency (event vs. process, and retrospect vs. real time).
Table 1. Midterm Assessment of Completion of Commitments in Second U.S. National Action Plan.
U.S. self-assessment OGP IRM midterm report
Frequency % Frequency %
Completed 32 51.6 2 7.7 Substantial 22 35.5 17 65.4 Limited 8 12.9 6 23.1 Not started — — 1 3.8 Total 62 100.0 26 100.0
Note. The number of commitment differs between the U.S. government self-assessment and the OGP IRM Midterm Assessment Report because of how they were grouped and presented. The same substantive goals were assessed in each report. OGP = Open Government Partnership; IRM = Independent Reporting Mechanism.
The commitments were overwhelmingly about government organizations. A few commit- ments focused on private organizations and beneficial ownership. In these cases, the same coding schema were used, but assumed the direction or variety of transparency applied to the private sector organization. Also, commitments that focused on integrity received “none” or “N/A” codes. This should not be taken as an indication of their lack of importance. It is simply an indica- tion that they are not captured by the theories or coding schemes applied. Within the appendix, a table listing all the commitments and codes is provided.
Findings and Discussion
What can we learn about the nature of transparency policies in the United States through the application of the theoretical frameworks?
Tables 4, 5, and 6 present the findings of the content analysis of the commitments with respect to both direction and varieties of transparency. By far, the most common direction of transpar- ency was found to be transparency inward (56.5%). An example of a commitment coded at transparency inward is Systematically Review and Declassify Historical Data on Nuclear Activities. Both outward and lateral transparency accounted for 19.4% of the commitments. The strong prevalence of lateral transparency was surprising because it was not in the initial theoreti- cal framework presented by Heald. These lateral commitments focused on the dissemination of information throughout the federal government (e.g., Develop Common FOIA Regulations and Practices for Federal Agencies). Upward and downward directions of transparency were com- pletely absent from the commitments. While event transparency (46.8%) was the most common, process transparency did account for more than 30% of the commitments. Publish Additional Federal Contracting Data is an example of event transparency where an output is externally vis- ible. Transparency in retrospect (61.3%) easily accounted for the majority of commitments (e.g., Improve accessibility and reusability of Federal financial data). Build digital services in the open
Table 3. Coding Guidelines for Varieties of Transparency: Event Versus Process and Retrospect Versus Real Time.
Category Guiding text
Event Events are points that are externally visible (inputs, outputs, or outcomes). Process Processes are rules, regulations, and procedures adopted by an organization and the
applications of these rules. Retrospect Transparency in retrospect is when an organization, at periodic intervals, releases
information relevant to its performance. Real time Transparency in real time is when the internal processes of the organization are
continuously disclosed. N/A No evidence of one of the above varieties.
Table 4. Direction of Transparency as Applied to Commitments in Second U.S. National Action Plan.
Upward 0 0.0 Downward 0 0.0 Outward 12 19.4 Inward 35 56.5 Lateral 12 19.4 None 3 4.8 Total 62 100.0
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is an example of a transparency in real-time commitment. The most common combination of direction and varieties of transparency was inward-event-retrospective (35.5%; see Table 7). None of the other combinations accounted for more than 10% of the commitments. If a commit- ment was coded as N/A for one of the varieties of transparency, it was left out of the combination analysis.
These findings confirm that the U.S. OGP commitments generally mirror the conventional approach to transparency. The inward-event-retrospective combination is what we traditionally think about when we imagine transparency initiatives. Examples of this category of initiative include those which deal with the Freedom of Information Act (e.g., Improve the Customer Experience Through a Consolidated Online FOIA Service) and access to federal spending data (e.g., Improve USAspending.gov).
The Second U.S. National Action Plan provides an excellent case to study open government initiatives. Because this is the second action plan developed by the Obama Administration, there was a greater knowledge base and institutional support to draw on in its development. Also, open government policies in general are developing and maturing rapidly. The Administration is on track to complete or substantially complete most of the commitments in the Second National Action Plan. This is not to say that these commitments were correct ones for the topics chosen or that the broad topics included in the plan were correct. When researching implementation of the Second National Action plan, four broad important policy areas were continuously raised in the focus groups and fieldwork as being left out of the plan: trade policy negotiations, access to jus- tice and civil right issues, ethics and integrity of governance, and state and local government open government (Piotrowski, 2015).
The United States released the Third National Action Plan in October 2015 and is currently implementing those commitments, some of which were follow-ups on the Second National Action Plan. The Third National Action Plan, similar to the Second National Action Plan, has a vast breadth, but did explicitly include commitments related to four areas noted above which were left out of the Second National Action Plan. It should again be highlighted that some unknown portion of the policy commitments included in these plans would have been developed, proposed, or implemented without the U.S. involvement in the OGP.
Table 5. Event Versus Process as Applied to Commitments in the Second U.S. National Action Plan.
Event 29 46.8 Process 19 30.6 N/A 14 22.6 Total 62 100.0
Table 6. Retrospect Versus Real Time as Applied to Commitments in the Second U.S. National Action Plan.
Retrospect 38 61.3 Real time 6 9.7 N/A 18 29.0 Total 62 100.0
Not surprisingly, the majority of open government policies dealt with information about what was going on inside of government agencies and regarding events that took place in the past. This mirrors a traditional view of transparency. So, while the OGP is promoting an open government reform agenda broadly, the initiatives in the Second National Action Plan were largely restricted to a more limited and established approach to transparency policies.
The OGP places an emphasis on public participation and stakeholder involvement, and this emphasis is clearly reflected given that a significant number of OGP commitments dealt with understanding the external environments of the agencies. The focus on lateral transparency was unexpected. Federal agencies are working to make relevant information more available to their peer organizations.
One clear example of this is the commitment: Implement Monitoring and Tracking of Declassification Reviews. The text of the commitment states,
The National Declassification Center at NARA will implement a referral and tracking system that will automatically notify appropriate agency representatives when classified records are ready for declassification review and enable monitoring to ensure that agencies meet review deadlines. This system will include records of Presidential Libraries.
This emphasis on openness among and between agencies is one that is relatively overlooked in the transparency literature, but seems to be a growing trend in practice. It also ties in directly with the collaborative governance literature.
Collaborative governance regimes have been defined as “a particular mode of, or system for, public decision making in which boundary collaboration presents the prevailing pattern of behav- ior and activity” (Emerson, Nabatchi, & Balogh, 2012, p. 6 quoted in Emerson & Nabatchi, 2015). Further examination and research needs to be produced to examine how lateral transpar- ency initiatives relate to collaborative governance regimes. Emerson and Nabatchi (2015) called for more systematic work to examine not only parts of collaborative governance regimes but also collaborative governance regimes as a whole. Lateral transparency policies and practices could be incorporated into this evaluation.
Table 7. Nested Directions and Varieties of Transparency as Applied to the Commitments in the Second U.S. National Action Plan.
Direction of transparency
Event vs. process
Retrospect vs. real time Frequency %
Outward Event Retrospect 0 0.0 Real time 0 0.0
Process Retrospect 2 3.2 Real time 1 1.6
Inward Event Retrospect 22 35.5 Real time 3 4.8
Process Retrospect 5 8.1 Real time 0 0.0
Lateral Event Retrospect 4 6.5 Real time 0 0.0
Process Retrospect 6 9.7 Real time 1 1.6
N/A 18 29.0 Total 62 100.0
166 American Review of Public Administration 47(2)
Although it is impossible to say definitively the impact of the OGP on U.S. federal transpar- ency policies, it is probably fair to say the OGP process in the United States has continued to highlight policies that allow individuals to gain access to government information about specific measurable events that happened in the past. There is evidence the goals of OGP (transparency, openness, participatory, and technology and innovation) are shaping the policies found in these plans. More research and analysis in the First U.S. National Action Plan and the Third National Action Plan would give us a better idea of how the OGP is shaping and directing U.S. open gov- ernment policies over time. An even more interesting and possibly informative application of this framework and method would be to analyze OGP commitments in multiple countries over time to see whether different countries respond to the OGP process and parameters differently.
More research needs to be done to determine whether the “open government reform” move- ment could replace New Public Management (Hood, 1991) as the next comprehensive, cohesive public management reform. The “open government reform” movement is still in its infancy, but should be viewed skeptically in the same way the New Public Management movement was. The promise of the “open government reform” movement may likely be larger than its actual impact.
Primary direction of transparency
Event vs. process
Retrospect vs. real time
U.S. self- assessment
1. Open Government to Increase Public Integrity 1.1 Improve Public Participation in Government 1.1.a Expand and Simplify the Use of We the People. Outward N/A N/A Substantial 1.1.b Publish Best Practices and Metrics for Public
Participation. Lateral Process Retrospect Completed
1.2 Modernize Management of Government Records Inward Event Retrospect Substantial 1.3 Modernize the Freedom of Information Act 1.3.a Improve the Customer Experience Through a
Consolidated Online FOIA Service Inward Event Retrospect Limited
1.3.b Develop Common FOIA Regulations and Practices for Federal Agencies
Lateral Process Retrospect Limited
1.3.c Improve Internal Agency FOIA Processes Lateral Process Retrospect Completed 1.3.d Establish an FOIA Modernization Advisory
Committee Outward Process Real time Completed
1.3.e Improve FOIA Training Across Government to Increase Efficiency
Lateral Event Retrospect Completed
1.4 Transform the Security Classification System 1.4.a Create a Security Classification Reform
Committee Outward Process Retrospect Completed
1.4.b Systematically Review and Declassify Historical Data on Nuclear Activities
Inward Process Retrospect Completed
1.4.c Pilot Technological Tools to Analyze Classified Presidential Records
Inward Event Retrospect Completed
1.4.d Implement Monitoring and Tracking of Declassification Reviews
Lateral Process Real time Completed
1.5 Implement the Controlled Unclassified Information Program
Lateral Process Retrospect Substantial
1.6 Increase Transparency of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Activities 1.6.a Share Data on the Use of National Security Legal
Authorities Inward Event Retrospect Completed
1.6.b Review and Declassify Information Regarding Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Programs
Inward Process Retrospect Completed
1.6.c Consult with Stakeholders Outward N/A N/A Completed
Primary direction of transparency
Event vs. process
Retrospect vs. real time
U.S. self- assessment
1.7 Make Privacy Compliance Information More Accessible 1.7.a Improve the Accessibility of Privacy Policies and
Compliance Reports. Inward Process Retrospect Substantial
1.7.b Update and Improve Reporting on Federal Agency Data Policies and Practices
Lateral N/A N/A limited
1.8 Support and Improve Agency Implementation of Open Government Plans
Lateral Event Retrospect Completed
1.9 Strengthen and Expand Whistle-Blower Protections for Government Personnel 1.9.a Mandate Participation in the Office of Special
Counsel Whistle-Blower Certification Program Inward Process N/A Completed
1.9.b Implement the Presidential Directive on Protecting Whistle-Blowers
Inward Process N/A Completed
1.9.c Advocate for Legislation to Expand Whistle- Blower Protections
Inward N/A N/A Completed
1.9.d Explore Executive Authority to Expand Whistle- Blower Protections if Congress Does Not Act
Inward Process N/A Substantial
1.1 Increase Transparency of Legal Entities Formed in the United States
1.0.a Advocate for Legislation Requiring Meaningful Disclosure
Inward Event Retrospect Completed
1.0.b Establish an Explicit Customer Due Diligence Obligation for United States
Inward Process Retrospect Substantial
2 Open Government to Manage Resources More Effectively 2.1 Implement the Extractive Industries Transparency
Initiative Inward Event Retrospect Substantial
2.2 Make Fossil Fuel Subsidies More Transparent Inward Event Retrospect Completed 2.3 Increase Transparency in Spending 2.3.a Join the Global Initiative on Fiscal Transparency Inward Event Retrospect Substantial 2.3.b USAspending.gov 2.3.b.i Regularly Engage with External Stakeholders Outward N/A N/A Completed 2.3.b.ii Improve USAspending.gov (September 2014) Inward Event Retrospect Substantial 2.3.c Open Up Federal Spending Data Inward Event Retrospect Substantial 2.3.d Publish Additional Federal Contracting Data Inward Event Retrospect Substantial 2.3.e Provide Strategic Direction for Enhancing Fiscal
Transparency Lateral Process Retrospect Completed
2.3.f Implementing Data Act 2.3.f.i Improve accessibility and reusability of Federal
financial Data (September 2014) Inward Event Retrospect Substantial
2.3.f.ii Explore Options for Visualization and Publication of Additional Federal Financial Data (September 2014)
Inward Event Retrospect Completed
2.3.f.iii Continue to Engage Stakeholders (September 2014)
Outward N/A N/A Completed
2.4 Increase Transparency of Foreign Assistance Inward Event Retrospect Substantial 2.5 Continue to Improve Performance.Gov Inward Event Retrospect Substantial 2.6 Consolidate Import and Export Systems to Curb
Corruption None N/A N/A Substantial
2.7 Promote Public Participation in Community Spending Decisions
Outward Process Real time Completed
2.8 Expand Visa Sanctions to Combat Corruption None N/A N/A Limited 3 Open Government to Improve Public Services 3.1 Further Expand Public Participation in the Development of Regulations 3.1.a Make Commenting on Proposed Rulemakings
Easier Outward Process N/A Completed
168 American Review of Public Administration 47(2)
The author serves as the Open Government Partnership Independent Review Mechanism’s independent country researcher for the United States’s Second National Action plan. The grant money associated with the position paid for research assistance and travel. Although many of the insights in this article were gained through that experience, the views and analysis in this article are the author’s alone. Any errors or over-
sights in the article are also solely the responsibility of the author.
The author thanks Professor David Heald for his helpful and thorough comments on an earlier draft of this article. Sinah Kang, Alex Ingrams, and Adam Kuczynski read this article and gave feedback when the author was drafting this article. Ms. Kang, a doctoral student in the School of Public Affairs and Administration, also provided excellent research assistance for this article.
Primary direction of transparency
Event vs. process
Retrospect vs. real time
U.S. self- assessment
3.1.b Continue Proactive Outreach With Stakeholders Outward N/A N/A Completed 3.1.c Make Regulations Easier to Read Inward Process Retrospect Substantial 3.2 Open Data to the Public 3.2.a Manage Government Data as a Strategic Asset Inward Event Retrospect Substantial 3.2.b Launch an Improved Data.gov Inward Event Retrospect Completed 3.2.c Open Agriculture and Nutrition Data Inward Event Retrospect Completed 3.2.d Open Natural Disaster-Related Data to Support
Response and Recovery Efforts Inward Event Real time Completed
3.3 Continue to Pilot Expert Networking Platforms Outward N/A N/A Limited 3.4 Reform Government Websites Inward Event Retrospect Completed 3.5 Promote Innovation Through Collaboration and Harness the Ingenuity of the American Public 3.5.a Create an Open Innovation Toolkit Lateral Event Retrospect Substantial 3.5.b New Incentive Prizes and Challenges on
Challenge.gov Outward N/A N/A Completed
3.5.c Increased Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Programs
Outward N/A N/A Completed
3.6 Promote Open Education to Increase Awareness and Engagement (September 2014) 3.6.a Raise Open Education Awareness and Identify
New Partnerships (September 2014) Lateral Event Retrospect Limited
3.6.b Pilot New Models for Using Open Educational Resources to Support Learning (September 2014)
Inward Event Retrospect Substantial
3.6.c Launch an online skills academy (Sept. 2014) Inward N/A N/A Substantial 3.7 Deliver Government Services More Effectively Through Information Technology (September 2014) 3.7.a Expand Digital Service Delivery Expertise in
Government (September 2014) None N/A N/A Completed
3.7.b Build Digital Services in the Open (September 2014)
Inward Event Real time Completed
3.7.c Adopt an Open Source Software Policy (September 2014)
Inward Event Real time Limited
3.8 Use Big Data to Support Greater Openness and Accountability (September 2014) 3.8.a Enhance Sharing of Best Practices on Data
Privacy for State and Local Law Enforcement (September 2014)
Lateral Process Retrospect Substantial
3.8.b Ensure Privacy Protection for Big Data Analyses in Health (September 2014)
Inward Event Retrospect Substantial
3.8.c Expand Technical Expertise in Government to Stop Discrimination (September 2014)
Inward Event Retrospect Limited
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
1. Currently there are 70 Open Government Partnership (OGP) members: Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cabo Verde, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote D’Ivoire, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Malawi, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Romania, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Slovak Republic, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Tanzania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Uruguay (the original eight members are in italics in the above list).
2. The current governments on the Steering Committee are Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The civil society rep- resentatives included members from Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Moldova, Tanzania, and three representatives deemed international (OGP, 2015b).
3. I served as the U.S. Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) National Assessor for the Second National Action plan. I applied for the position following an open call. The grant money associated with the position paid for research assistance and travel. In this capacity, I attended training sessions, OGP IRM national-level evaluators training (August 2014), a research presentation of OGP at the Open Society Foundation (September 2014), policy kick-off meetings at the United Nations (September 2014), a U.S. open government working group meeting at the White House (November 2014, February 2015, May 2015), 10 policy check-ins between civil society organizations and the White House Office of Science and Technology (January and February 2015), and the Americas Regional Meeting of the OGP in Costa Rica (November 2014). I organized 10 stakeholder focus groups for civil society mem- bers in March 2015 at the Opengovhub in Washington, D.C. Two surveys were completed. One was a survey of all government points of contact for individual commitments (N = 52). The other survey was of civil society stakeholders (N = 30). In addition to this fieldwork, I relied upon existing data sets and official organization documents to gather data.
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Suzanne J. Piotrowski is deputy Dean and Associate Professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers-Newark. She currently serves as the independent assessor of the United States Second National Action Plan for the Open Government Partnership. Her research focuses on the themes of open government and governmental transparency.
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