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White House Gives Agencies Transparency To-Do List

Open-government advocates got an early holiday gift from the White House today.

The Office of Management and Budget gave federal agencies the detailed directive on transparency that President Barack Obama called for on his second day in office.

The 11-page directive sets out specific tasks for agencies and gives them deadlines. (Despite the 2008 date on the memo, it was not issued by the Bush administration.) It also calls for agencies to use technology to distribute information proactively, rather than forcing people to file Freedom of Information Act requests. Federal agencies process hundreds of thousands of FOIA requests each year.

From the looks of this new road map to transparency, federal officials will have to get busy. Among the tasks agencies must do within the next 45 days:

•Publish online three "high-value" data sets that have not previously been released in an easily downloadable format, and register them on the federal information site, which currently catalogues 803 files.
•Designate a "high-level senior official" to be accountable for spending data that is made available to the public.
•Form a new working group of senior-level officials to address issues of transparency and accountability.

But wait. That’s not all. The plan sets out other tasks that must be accomplished within 60 or 120 days, including developing open-government plans and building open-government Web sites.

Here’s the overall goal, as the directive puts it: "To create an unprecedented and sustained level of openness and accountability in every agency, senior leaders should strive to incorporate the values of transparency, participation, and collaboration into the ongoing work of their agency."

Today’s memo follows a couple of dings on the administration’s transparency record. On Monday, the Department of Justice held an open-government training for federal workers that was closed to the public. Meanwhile, The Boston Globe reported late last month that Obama may extend the deadline for releasing millions of classified documents.

While the new directive has been applauded by open-government groups, the real test of transparency, they say, will be how this plan is carried out.

Check out the new directive, which we’ve put in our handy document reader.

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