Obama at One
Executive Director, Sunlight Foundation
The president has established a new, very high standard regarding the use of technology for greater government transparency. He set a high-water mark on his second day in office, and now his early pledge has been followed by the Open Government Directive. It represents a fundamental shift in government's role in making information public, reversing decades during which government held its information close and conducted its policy-making almost entirely behind closed doors. The directive orders each cabinet-level agency to create plans and protocols for the release of government data online in tech- and citizen-friendly formats. It also charges the agencies to begin making data sets available to the public within a short period of time. Already the administration has established data clearinghouses such as data.gov and recovery.gov and dramatically strengthened lobbyist disclosure of contacts with the executive branch. There are positive harbingers.
But the president hasn't invested himself personally in the fight. And it will take his involvement to truly turn the culture of secrecy around. If this unfolds, it has the potential to dramatically alter the way Americans interact with their government. It can break the chokehold that insiders have on Washington, as information is put directly into the hands of citizens.
The administration clearly understands that "public information" means that it's online. This can mean nothing else in the twenty-first century. Now it's our job to hold the administration to its promises.
Barack Obama came to Washington riding a wave of movement activity that had been building for many years. It culminated in his successful insurgent primary battles and presidential campaign. The power of that surge has carried our nation forward on many fronts, including: stemming massive job losses, increasing women's ability to ensure fair treatment in the workplace, rebuilding the Justice Department's ability to protect Americans' basic individual rights and setting the stage for what appears to be the imminent passage of major healthcare reform.
The greatest victory of Obama's first year, in other words, occurred months before it began. It happened when he decided to stitch together the dreams of many stripes of American idealists into one powerful force for change.
The greatest failure of his administration's first year rests
in the hands of all of us who are committed to manifesting
our nation's dream of liberty and justice for all. In too many instances in the past twelve months we have powered down, left the field for the bleachers and chosen to play armchair pundit rather than continue leading.
Like every great wave, the one that brought change to Washington must be regenerated or it ebbs. More important, our communities' and families' fortunes, which in so many instances were already in perilous condition, will ebb with it. Real change emerges from the collective power of a robust and inspired movement. 2010 must be the year we begin to fight at scale again.
Instead of a high point or a low point, how about a too-early-to-tell point? This is where I think we are during the first year of a four- or eight-year presidency.