United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government Dr. Beck Noveck lectures at UMass

By Angela Hilsman

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The United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government Dr. Beck Noveck, gave a lecture at the University of Massachusetts on Friday, Oct. 30. about President Barack Obama’s Open Government policy.

On Jan. 21, Obama issued the “Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government,” and Noveck presented information on his policy to a full audience in the Isenberg School of Management’s room 108.

Noveck’s presentation was titled “Open Government- Transparency, Participation, and Collaboration,” and during her 40-minute lecture, Noveck expanded on the progress of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which is represented on the Open Government Website found at www.whitehouse.gov/open.

The lecture began with Noveck defining what the Obama administration’s meaning behind an “open government” is by saying that it allows information and ideas to shift openly between government and citizens, without, the secrecy of previous administrations. “When we talk about transparency,” she said, we mean “to engender greater and improved citizen involvement and participation.”

Noveck explained that Obama’s campaign for change is moving forward. She said that the government is ready to trust, collaborate and “[work] with the American public in new ways.” To do this, Noveck stressed the importance of technology use.

Noveck reiterated at times that developed technology can be used to make government better. She added further details about how technology can improve government, and can be found in her book published in 2009 titled “Wiki Government: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger, and Citizens More Powerful.”

Within the lecture, Noveck dove into an explanation of the White House’s new Website found at www.whitehouse.gov/open. Noveck explained that the Website will allow citizens to participate more in their government’s decision making. Noveck says that the site is designed to “tap [the] intelligence and expertise” of U.S. citizens.

On the Website, citizens can leave commentary, review bills and get a first-hand look at the on-goings of the White House. Noveck says the government is aimed at serving the people, and there is no better way to do that than to have them participate in government.

Greater details about the progress of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is also represented on this Web site.

The Open Government Web site is not fully finished, said Noveck, explaining that “what’s new to government is old to industry.” But, it does currently offer three phases for citizens to explore.

Phase One is “Brainstorming.” According to the website, this area allows people to “share ideas and recommendations on how to make government more open.” Phase Two, titled “Discuss,” permits people to “dig deeper on the ideas and challenges identified during the Brainstorm phase.” While Phase Three, “Draft,” says “collaborate on crafting constructive proposals to address challenges from the ‘Discussion’ phase.”

Each phase links to separate Websites. Phase One leads to “Open Government Dialogue,” run by the National Academy of Public Administration. However, Phase Two directs citizens to a blog run by the Office of Science & Technology Policy (the OSTP Blog). Finally, Phase Three guides people to mixedink.com, which allows people to write and rate comments about listed issues.

The “Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government” was the Obama administration’s first executive memorandum. According to Noveck, it works because there is an underlying belief that the government can trust the American people and that citizen input is essential to running a government that serves the people.

Noveck said the Website gives citizens the “ability to scrutinize information in ways that we’ve never been able to do before.” She added that by giving the public access to raw data, mistakes are more likely to be found.

In addition, Noveck says that Federal IT Dashboard is “building a culture of accountability.” By posting raw data, it forces chief information officers (CIOs) to improve what works and discard what doesn’t.

This idea of Open Policy-making is crucial, said Noveck, because it is “trying to create a culture where citizen engagement becomes the norm.” She adds that this notion is possible. “The tools are out there,” said Noveck.

One main concern, says Noveck, is the possibility of sacrificing security. She stresses that sharing information is important in order to create open government, but once it’s online, anyone has access to it. Therefore, progress can be slow. Noveck also says that “the more information you provide, the more information people ask for,” proposing more questions and requests. This also can slow things down.

“You should be dumbfounded that work isn’t done this way that could be done this way,” said Noveck, referring to the newly designed government-citizen connection. “You should be even more dumbfounded that we still have a long way to go.”

“You have to believe that change is a good thing,” said Noveck. “Government’s not going away. You can’t get rid of it and replace it with something else. That’s why we have to innovate inside out.”

Noveck is the first to hold the recently created deputy chief technology officer for open government position.

Angela Hilsman can be reached at [email protected]