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Federal Agencies Bolster Transparency Plans

After first failing to follow an open-government directive from the White House, some agencies make changes. They include the Justice Department, which coordinates federal FOIA training.

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The Justice Department, its headquarters pictured above, improved the most in OpentheGovernment.org's audit of transparency by federal agencies. (Wikimedia Commons)

Federal agencies have beefed up plans for how they will be more open to the public after a consortium of transparency groups gave failing grades to some.

In May, we wrote about an audit released by OpentheGovernment.org, which found that many open-government plans failed to fulfill the requirements set out by a White House directive issued in December. Those plans were due April 7.

In its May report, the transparency group also called for a do-over. It asked agencies to fill in the gaps in their plans and resubmit them by June 25. Of 39 agencies whose plans were evaluated, 23 submitted revised plans. (A few, such as NASA, did such a bang-up job the first time, they didn’t need to fix their plans.)

OpentheGovernment.gov released the evaluations of the revised plans today.

This time around, the most-improved award goes to the Department of Justice. The agency, which coordinates Freedom of Information Act reporting and training for federal agencies, moved up to No. 8 after ranking last in the initial audit. It also got extra credit this time around for going beyond the requirements in some areas.

DOJ staff members “took advantage of this constructive criticism to improve their plan,” auditors wrote.

The Office of Management and Budget, the agency that issued the original directive, also bumped up its score. It ranked among the worst plans in the original audit.

The audit also evaluated plans from nine other agencies that were not subject to the OMB directive, but wrote open-government plans anyhow. Among those are The National Endowment for the Arts, the Railroad Retirement Board and the Peace Corps.

Open-government plans are supposed to outline how the agencies will publish data and information in a timely manner and describe how agencies will process FOIA requests. Agencies also were to describe how they would make it easier for citizens to participate in agency activities.

You can read all of the open-government plans along with their evaluations online.

But these plans are just the beginning for anyone interested in how transparent federal agencies will become. OpentheGovernment.org is working with transparency groups to develop a methodology for judging whether agencies follow through with their plans. We’ll be checking agency progress as well.