Open questions on open government in the USA

This coalition letter from good governance groups and individuals devoted to ethics asks the Biden administration to detail its plans for restoring government transparency and accountability, with dozens of specific questions and requests for information regarding specific commitments necessary to continue that process. The letter may be downloaded as a PDF with footnotes instead of links.

“Recommitting to the “highest standards of transparency” to revitalize the national security and foreign policy institutions of the United States is a necessary but insufficient step in rebuilding public trust in a government of, by, and for the people.

We are eager to hear more about the Biden administration’s plans for restoring transparency and accountability in the United States government and reclaiming global leadership on democracy and human rights during these first 100 days. Resetting the default to openness and good governance is critical and sets both the bar for officials and the tone from the top for the four years ahead.

We hope you will respond to our questions publicly, as soon as possible, informing both the American people and the world about how you will be approaching rebuilding public trust in our federal government, including its statements, statistics, and the scientific rigor underpinning its policies. Your vocal commitment to “truth and transparency” are welcome, but it would be useful to learn more about specific, concrete commitments in policy, programs, and personnel. “

Governing digital in 2020

Democracy depends on informed publics to function, but around the world, authoritarianism and populism are on the rise, increasingly using new technologies to censor, repress, surveil, and disinform the public.

This phenomenon is muddying the capacity of the public to be accurately informed and engage in collective action based upon shared, trustworthy facts, putting a much higher premium on the capacity of governments to connect with and serve those they govern through the dissemination of trustworthy information where and when the publics search for and discover it.

At the same time, public trust in government and institutions in general remains low, for good reasons: corporations have captured regulators and legislators. Corruption remains a huge problem in countries around the world.

In the United States, growing partisan polarization and illiberalism are exacerbating existing structural flaws in American democracy created by the deregulation of money in politics and gerrymandering.

This all adds up to a series of wicked problems, not just one, requiring systemic responses and reforms alongside targeted interventions. No single person or organization, much less project, will be sufficient to bring about the scale and scope of the measures required to heal these flaws – but that’s no reason not to stay scrubbed in and work in common cause, together.

Governing.Digital will pull together a unifying framework for a wide range of civic technology issues and then offer ways forward on each. This work will build upon the foundation of good government advocacy and entrepreneurial open technology policy the Sunlight Foundation advanced over the past decade, in particular the 2018 policy agenda that remains relevant in 2020.

Readers should expect us to focus on digital records reforms at the National Archives, digital accessibility, the implementation of the 2016 Freedom of Information Act, oversight of the Open Government Data Act, the DATA Act, U.S. participation to the Open Government Partnership, White House circulars and executive orders, and the Honest Ads Act, along with their descendants in states, cities, and other nations.

We’ll also be exploring related reforms relevant to transparency, democracy, and public information access from cities, states and around the world. In particular, we will focus on how proactive disclosures from private entities that host platforms for political speech or marketplaces improve public outcomes.

Wherever possible, we’ll ground these reforms within the context of their enactment and implementation. All laws are not created equal, nor are the code or regulators that carry them out.

As always, thank you for listening. Let’s get started.