Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Government Transparency: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Hearing

Today, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on government transparency. This was to be a follow up on the Open Government Directive.
This memorandum is intended to direct executive departments and agencies to take specific actions to implement the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration set forth in the President’s Memorandum.
We heard lots of numbers, new websites, and bold visions of people powered politics. We heard aspirations, including the declassification of 400 million pages of previously classified documents by the end of 2013. The panelists we heard from were
Vivek Kundra, federal chief information officier and administrator for electronic government and information technology in the Office of Management and Budget

Aneesh Chopra, assistant director for technology in the Office of Science and Technology Policy

Archivist of the United States David Ferriero of the National Archives and Records Administration
We were also supposed to hear from:
Ellen Miller, co-founder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation

Rob Pinkerton, director of public sector solutions for Adobe Systems, Inc.

Stephen O'Keeffe, founder of Meri Talk Online

Thomas Blantonm director of National Security Archives
However, these folks we cut off during the introductions when all Senate hearing had to cease, I believe, having to due with the Senate health care actions.

"Open government isn't an abstract notion, it's a new way of doing business in Washington," said Kundra. He did, however, caution that the interest of national security must also be weighed when talking transparency. When pressed by Senator Coburn on accountability he declared that many of the problems regarding that stem from what he called a "culture of faceless accountability" where no person can seemingly be held accountable for actions that do not meet the expectations of the law.

"The core of our mission is serving democracy by providing" acces to information and an open government, added Ferriero. Our "government cannot be accountable" if it does not preserve documents yet "the federal government has not deemed record keeping a high priority in IT systems."

The simple availability of information, a task not nearly met as of yet, is of the utmost importance. Chopra listed of a number of reasons that is so. When the Department of Labor makes information available "employers can better protect their workers." All the panelists made references to people-powered-politics.

Kundra spoke of moving towards an architecture that empowers third parties to hold government accountable and improve their communities. He referenced YouTube, saying that they "didn't go out there and create every video that you see there, it's the american people."

This all sounds good, and the President's Open Government Directive sounds good, but the big hurdle towards transparency became blatantly apparent when no one answered Senator Coburn's question, "Is there any consequence to not following the law?"
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