Continuing our focus on transparency, I now turn to some interesting research done by Nextgov. They, along with their sister research organization the Government Business Council, created a survey of 430 federal managers between Feb. 25 and March 2 on the definition of transparency and their ability to execute on that definition. The results of the survey can be found here.
The impetus for the need for transparency comes directly from President Obama himself, who stated very clearly his intentions to make government more transparent in his memo released Jan. 21, one day into his presidency.
"Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing," he wrote. "My administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use."
The focus on transparency also was profiled by Government Executive magazine in its April cover story, "Behind the Curtain." This story focused on the definition of transparency, the types of information that can be released, and the format for that information. Both Nextgov and Government Executive found that federal managers were most concerned about what constitutes transparency. Further, the results create a mixed message of that definition, along with a clear picture of obstacles the transparency initiative will have in the federal government.
Most respondents believed they are being overburdened with data calls for information that has already been made available to the public. Computer security was also a major concern, as technology will drive the visibility of the transparency initiative. However, the reality is that federal agencies simply do not have the resources to make all the applicable data accessible, even though positive survey results indicate federal managers seemed to be open to transparency. This is an encouraging sign from a group normally risk averse and typically resistant to change. Nonetheless, the real impediment that transparency will have is the view of who has the onus of transparency. According to federal managers, it is not their problem.
… They said the president, Congress and top government executives needed to drive it. But that's only half the equation, Miller said. "My take on this is it's going to take strong leadership not only at the top of an agency but also at the lower levels," she said. "What does it mean for the agency to be transparent and what does that look like?"…
…Alan Blautis, director of Cisco Systems Inc.'s Internet Business Solutions Group who has held numerous government management positions in his 28 year government career, summed up managers' lack of interest in taking the responsibility for transparency this way: "There's a strong status quo mentality" among federal managers, he said. "So, here's the question: Who outside of the White House or the stimulus groupies, have you heard talk about transparency?"… (Emphasis mine).
That is the unspoken truth; a deafening silence from Congress and senior government leaders on the value of transparency. President Obama can only provide so much push for the initiative, as leaders need to execute on the initiative and rally the troops to open government. It is a very challenging and difficult environment that needs leadership outside the White House to convince agencies on how and why transparency is of value to government operations and helping strengthen confidence in government.