Using Gov 2.0 to meet the Obama administration’s requirements for transparency and open government

General Note: This blog post comes from a recent white paper I authored on behalf of Neighborhood America in response to new requirements for transparent and open government to comply with Executive Order #3 of President Barack Obama’s Administration and The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. You can find the entire white paper here. I have included an excerpt of this white paper below:

Today’s Challenge

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the “Act”) requires an extraordinary level of transparency on the part of Federal, State and Local agencies. It also requires ongoing certification of meeting Act requirements for transparency and inter-agency coordination. These transparency requirements are embodied in Title XV as follows:

  • Section 1511 requires that all local and state governments receiving funding for infrastructure investment must certify:

…[T]hat the infrastructure investment has received the full review and vetting required by law and that the chief executive accepts responsibility that the infrastructure investment is an appropriate use
of taxpayer dollars… the certification shall be posted on a website and linked to a website established by section 1526.

  • Section 1521 in Subtitle B requires reporting that shows:

[A]ppropriate measures for inter-agency collaboration relating to covered funds.

  • Section 1526 then contemplates that the federal government, through a newly created review board (The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board), establish a super portal to which all information related to awards and expenditures under the Act is then published. Subsection (c) describes the type of content to be posted to the website. It includes in part:

(3) [D]ata on relevant economic, financial, grant and contract information in user-friendly visual presentations to enhance public awareness of the use of covered funds…

(6) The website shall provide a means for the public to give feedback on the performance of contracts that expend covered funds.

The Act’s intent to create transparency at all levels of government is extraordinary. But how do government agencies satisfy Act requirements and drive eligibility for Act funds?

Government 2.0 Can Help to Realize the Benefits of Transparency and Openness

The benefits of transparent and open government are to harness the power of employee, citizen, and stakeholder involvement to—

  • Better understand the needs and priorities of citizens and stakeholders
  • Act on these needs with greater effectiveness
  • Achieve improvements in efficiency and effectiveness across all levels of government
  • Inform citizens of these actions and improvements, thereby increasing public trust

Applying Government 2.0 Solutions at the Fulcrum: Common Modes of Public Engagement

Simple application of Gov 2.0 technology haphazardly is simply “throwing technology (and money)” this challenge.  However when, Gov 2.0 solutions are designed around existing, common modes of engagement between government agencies and their staff and constituents they magnify governments ability to serve their constituents — in a highly open and transparent manner.

There are nine modes of engagement that can immediately benefit from Gov 2.0 solutions. Five of these span the area of Public Outreach, while four span the area of Agency Coordination.

Public Outreach modes of engagement involve interactions between government agencies and their constituents. Gov 2.0 solutions can provide significant public benefit in five specific areas in the follow ways:

  1. Projects: By engaging their constituents, agencies can efficiently: surface ideas for public process, conduct alternative analyses of one project idea against another, and rapidly complete the public comment and certification periods required prior to project start and throughout all project phases.
  2. Issues: Using Gov 2.0 solutions, agencies and legislative bodies can assess public ideas, interests and preferences regarding how best to address public policy issues. They can also accelerate consensus building, aiding future policy execution.
  3. Rules: By engaging their constituents, agencies can efficiently: surface ideas and input for rule development. They can also conduct alternative analyses of rule alternatives and more rapidly complete the public comment and certification periods required prior to rule enforcement.
  4. Legislation: Using Gov 2.0 solutions, legislative bodies can surface ideas and evaluate public ideas, interests and concerns regarding pending legislation. They can do this in a transparent manner that reinforces trust and adoption.
  5. Events: Agencies can call their constituents to action and share information in advance of important events or emergencies. They can also capture insight and feedback to improve future planning and response

Agency Coordination modes of engagement involve interactions within and between government agencies and their constituents. Neighborhood America has identified four modes of engagement where Gov 2.0 solutions can provide significant public benefit:

  1. Intra-Agency Process: Agencies can engage their staff and constituents to find ideas to improve effectiveness and efficiency of service delivery. Byproducts of this not only include cost and time savings, but also higher staff productivity and morale.
  2. Inter-Agency Collaboration: Gov 2.0 solutions help bypass agency barriers and foster greater collaboration and teamwork across organizations and jurisdictions. This creates openness that not only leads to greater efficiency but also can prevent problems caused by isolation of information and lack of collaboration.
  3. Mission Fulfillment: Agencies simultaneously engage staff and constituents to build stronger connections and exchange information. This creates higher efficiency, satisfaction and public trust.
  4. Recruitment: Agencies can leverage Gov 2.0 solutions to recruit more efficiently, and from a wider group of candidates. The benefits of this are manifold.

Conclusion

President Obama’s American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act raises a challenge for government agencies to establish websites in order to achieve agency transparency and citizen participation — and do it in a time-sensitive manner. The ongoing certification process requires the public to be fully aware of all agency expenditures of government funds and enable them to provide feedback via the web.

The way that agencies can best meet the objectives of the Act is through the provision of understandable, reportable and evaluable data generated by citizen participation. Most government agencies and their partners do not have the time or experience to establish methods to engage citizens online effectively, rapidly and in an enterprise environment. Gov 2.0 solutions give government agencies the position and power to harness citizen networks to realize the benefits of transparent and open government. For more information on this, please see my white paper in its entirety.

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