Face-to-Face, Online, or Both?
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Limited to Only Some Groups or Individuals
Recruitment Method for Limited Subset of Population
Captive Sample
Number of Participants
Large groups


Open Government Directive (USA)

May 29, 2019 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby
December 7, 2010 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both?
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Limited to Only Some Groups or Individuals
Recruitment Method for Limited Subset of Population
Captive Sample
Number of Participants
Large groups

Problems and Purpose

The Open Government Directive is an effort by the Obama Administration to create an unprecedented level of openness in government. One of President Obama’s main goals since his first day in office has been to increase transparency, participation, and collaboration between the federal government, different governmental agencies, and the public. The purpose of these acts was to correct the relative opacity of the last administration, which has long been criticized for its overly-private nature and lack of transparency all together. President Obama's first executive act, issued on January 21,2009 in his Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, set forth among other things, that, "We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration, openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government." [6]

Origins and Development

On his first day in Office, President Obama signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, ushering in a new era of open and accountable government meant to bridge the gap between the American people and their government.

Soon after announcing his Open Government initiative in January 2009, President Obama and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) launched the first public comment on an Executive Order [9]. In February 2009, The State Department launched “Sounding Board,” an electronic suggestion box for feedback from the general public and workforce. [10] Soon after in March, during the Open for Questions Town Hall, the President answered questions that were submitted and voted on transparently by the public [11].

On December 8, 2009, the White House issued an unprecedented Open Government Directive requiring federal agencies to take immediate, specific steps to achieve key milestones in transparency, participation, and collaboration. Progress on this initiative can be tracked across the Executive Branch on the Open Government Dashboard, and in the White House Progress Report to the American People. [3]

How It Works

The Open Government Directive mandates that each sector of the government make all publicly-available material accessible online. Each sector’s catalog must be accessible to the all members of the public. [16]

According to the Directive, by February 6th*, each department must set up a website at with not only the text of the plan, but also tools with which members of the public can comment on on the plan and the agency's commitment to open government. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) specifies that open government sites should "serve as the gateway for agency activities related to the Open Government Directive" and each agency "shall maintain and update that webpage in a timely fashion."

Within 45 days, each agency, in consultation with the OMB, shall designate a high- level senior official to be held accountable for the quality, objectivity and internal controls of the Federal spending information publicly disseminated. Each agency shall also identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets...and register those data sets via," reads the directive. "These must be data sets not previously available online or in a downloadable format."

Within 60 days, the deputy director shall issue a separate, mini-directive detailing the specifics of the "high-quality data" that the White House requests the agencies submit to its central clearinghouses like Also within 60 days, the Federal Chief Information Officer and the Federal Chief Technology Officer shall create an Open Government Dashboard on". "The Open Government Dashboard will make available each agency’s Open Government Plan, together with aggregate statistics and visualizations designed to provide an assessment of the state of open government in the Executive Branch and progress over time toward meeting the deadlines for action outlined in this Directive."

Within 90 days, the Deputy Director for Management at OMB will issue, through separate guidance or as part of any planned comprehensive management guidance, a framework for how agencies can use challenges, prizes, and other incentive-backed strategies to find innovative or cost-effective solutions to improving open government."

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Left somewhat untouched in the White House's released version of its Open Government Directive (OGD) are three central factors: transparency, participation and collaboration. The OGD encourages agencies to involve citizens in the practice of government, but does no offer much in the way of guidance in figuring out to complete that challenging task.

Furthermore, much of what agencies can and can't do online is shaped by policy barriers, even when those are mostly legalistic in nature. In such cases, the OMB typically relies on the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to navigate these issues.

Within 120 days, OIRA must "review existing OMB policies, such as Paperwork Reduction Act guidance and privacy guidance, to identify impediments to open government and to the use of new technologies and, where necessary, issue clarifying guidance and/or propose revisions to such policies, to promote greater openness in government." [2]

Overall there is a general sense of approval for Obama's open government directive as the initiative really does provide transparency and openness within/for the United States. Since the Open Government Directive was signed into force, the majority of government departments and agencies have taken steps to increase their transparency. In May 2009, had just 47 data sets and, by 2016, it had more than 168,000 [1]. In the same year, White House spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield noted that the evaluators of the audit gave almost half of the agencies scores of 80% or higher, while a "vast majority" had scores of over 70%. [3] The Obama Administration has also noted that similar transparency and participation measures have been taken across the world.

Yet there is still some criticism of the directive. Many who disprove of the directive are worried about people's over-expectations of this initiative to make the government work well. While they argue that more than transparency is needed to fix American government, there is still general agreement that this is a good stepping stone to the future of a transparent government for the people, of the people, and by the people. “It is this spirit of innovation that is most compelling about the tools and data released to date. While the Open Government Directive has yet to create radical transformations in government, its most important contribution may be a new culture of openness.” [6]


1. The Official Web Site of the United States Government: or

2. Executive Office of the President, Washington DC. “Open Government. A Progress Report to the American People”. December 1, 2009.

3. OGD Milestones:

4. Critics of OGD,

5. Vijayan, Jaikumar, “Agencies struggle to meet Obama’s Open Government Directive”. May 4, 2010. ComputerWorld.

6. Terdiman, Daniel. “White House unveils open government directive”. CNET News.

7. President Barack Obama. January 21, 2009.

8. Open Government Directive Agency Datasets:

9. Federal Register. Vol. 74, No. 37. February 26, 2009. Comments on executive order:

10. Radia, Kirit. "Hillary Clinton Launches E-Suggestion Box.. 'The Secretary is Listening'". February 10, 2009. ABC News.

11. Open For Questions TownHall:


13. The Sunlight Foundation-

14. Full text of the Open Government Directive from the White House’s website, including Memorandum:

15. OMB Watch- [BROKEN LINK]

UPDATE: OMB Watch is now known as the Center for Effective Government and can be visite at

16. Open Government Directive Agency Datasets:

External Links

Full text of the directive:

Directive on the