April 8. 2010; Sunlight Foundation | One of the nation’s most prominent advocates for openness in government is the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation. Its executive director, Ellen Miller, just posted a blog statement that expressed her disappointment in the sluggish response of the Obama Administration to fulfill its commitment to increased openness with government information. Her lead says it all: “Sigh. I feel like a disappointed parent.”
She describes the trajectory from her excitement at the announcement last year of an Open Government Directive to her current feelings of being let down by someone you trusted to follow through. Federal agencies were supposed to inventory their “high value information” data sets, identify which weren’t yet available for putting online, and establish a timetable for doing so.
According to Miller and her Sunlight colleagues, only 18 of the agencies responding to the directive identified new data sets to be released (totaling 89), 12 identified none. Apparently, Health and Human Services (announcing plans to put 14 data sets online) along with NASA, Education, National Archives and Records Administration and the Office of Personnel Management were among the agencies with decent responses. In contrast, Miller noted, “Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, State, Interior, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, US Agency for International Development and the Social Security Administration did not identify any new data to be made available – no inventories either.”
Is this important to the nonprofit sector and to nonprofit journals like NPQ? Of course it is. For example, USAID does a ton of its work through nonprofit contractors (NGOs operating on specific work contracts as well as indefinite quantity contracts). Because we at NPQ are particularly concerned about nonprofits, we took a peek at the open government plan released last week by the Corporation for National and Community Service [PDF]. The CNCS document says that the agency prior to the report put three “high quality” data sets on data.gov in January. We found them: the Calendar of public meetings involving the CNCS CEO, the list of Recovery Act VISTA Sponsors and grant awards received, and American Recovery Act National Service Trust payments. All well and good, and the report lists other downloadable data from the Corporation, including the agency’s financial reports, photo galleries, and research reports.
But the report reveals, consistent with Miller’s comments, that the Corporation only started its inventory of data sets on March 31st and plans to complete the inventory process on June 30th, after which it will prioritize the data sets with a plan to publish by October 29th later this year. Even its plan to publish information on AmeriCorps grantee performance will not be completed until December 2nd. We’re sure that the Corporation’s slow response is partly attributable to its leaderless condition until the recent appointment of Patrick Corvington. As the nation’s primary federal agency for nonprofits, CNCS should now vault to the front of the pack in making real data sets available, online, and downloadable, consistent with the core nonprofit value of openness and transparency.—Rick Cohen