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Public Involvement Network News

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Three Government Websites Promote Transparency, Participation

Developed by Catie Ferrara, NCEI Intern

The Obama Administration has launched two new online discussion forums and one new website providing access to government databases. These three Internet tools are helping citizens to participate in policymaking and promoting the President’s Open Government Initiative.

regulations.gov Exchange Logo

The Regulations.gov Exchange, supplemented a pre-existing government website, Regulations.gov, which provides public access to federal regulations, notices, and supporting materials.

The Exchange allowed visitors to browse and recommend changes to Regulations.gov, which, since its creation in 2003, has received some criticism for being difficult for some to navigate. Features on the website included the ability to post, track, and rate ideas on Regulations.gov’s content and layout.

“We’re always looking for new, innovative ways to engage the public, and get more people involved in the regulatory process,” said John Moses, EPA’s eRulemaking program director. “Every member of the public can post their opinion directly on Regulations.gov Exchange without boundaries, shaping and improving Regulations.gov.”

In late July, Regulations.gov released a reformatted homepage and search results page with adaptations based on suggestions raised in public feedback. These alterations include mechanisms of sorting by “most visited,” “newly posted,” and “comment period closing soon” regulations, as well as the availability of full docket folders.

The Regulations.gov Exchange was a part of the eRulemaking Program – an interagency, E-Government initiative led by the Environmental Protection Agency. The eRulemaking Program’s mission, according to the White House, “is to increase public access to, participation in, and understanding of federal rulemaking and improve agencies’ efficiency and effectiveness in developing rules.”

recovery dialogue picture

From April 27 through May 3, Recovery.gov opened up a dialogue to obtain public opinion of and suggestions for the website, which was created to foster public understanding of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The discussion, hosted by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), focused on the question, “What ideas, tools, and approaches can make Recovery.gov a place where the public can monitor the expenditure and use of recovery funds?"

Over 22,000 participants representing 50 states and 98 foreign countries – including Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses, web designers, and financial experts – shared their responses to the above question, giving thousands of suggestions to the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. The dialogue website allowed participants to tag and vote on ideas, which clarified priorities and themes for the Board.

According to NAPA’s After-Action Report (PDF) (About PDF), issued on June 15, the recommendations generally focused on website formatting. The report states, “Topics such as geographical mapping, XML formats, and linked open data surfaced in the top-rated ideas. Information syntax, XBRL, and collaboration were among the overarching themes identified by the community.”

data.gov logo

Launched May 21 by the Obama administration, the new website Data.gov is taking shape as a publically-accessible compilation of federal data sets. The website allows visitors to search for and download non-sensitive government data and analysis tools.

Data.gov will open up the workings of government by making economic, health care, environmental, and other government information available on a single website, allowing the public to access raw data and transform it in innovative ways,” Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag told BNA. “Data.gov is going to be a one-stop shop for free access to data generated across all federal agencies.”

In a video on the new website's homepage, chief information officer Vivek Kundra noted that the website “is fundamental to the President's commitment to transparency and open government.” Kundra has previous experience in public database development, having served as chief information officer for the District of Columbia during a similar initiative to publicize D.C. data sources.

The information on Data.gov gives academics, businesses, and private visitors the resources to perform statistical analyses on federal government data. Agencies will also benefit from the site, as it will provide them with access to machine-readable metadata files for them to analyze “data about data”.

The website currently provides access to 391 “raw” data sets and 45 information tools, searchable by category, agency, keyword, and data format. Kundra has said that the government will continue to expand the datasets available, eventually including state and local data.

Data.gov also provides visitors with the opportunity to leave feedback on the website. They can rate individual datasets, suggest new topics or specific data to publish, and comment on the design of the website.

Data.gov was developed by the Federal Chief Information Officers (CIO) Council. It is hosted by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).

Information in this article came from:
Dotgov Buzz – USA.gov
Jesse Lee, WhiteHouse.gov Blog
Ralph Lindeman, BNA
Latisha Petteway, EPA, "New Online Forum Promotes Transparency and Openness in Government"

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