Openness Initiative Begins to Take Root

The Obama Administration’s new open government policy has begun to elicit a response from executive branch agencies.  The Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and other agencies issued news releases yesterday outlining the initial steps they are taking to fulfill the December 8 White House Open Government Directive (pdf).

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy posted a request for public comment on how to enhance public access to federally-funded science and technology research.  Beginning today, “The Administration is seeking public input on access to publicly-funded research results, such as those that appear in academic and scholarly journal articles. Currently, the National Institutes of Health require that research funded by its grants be made available to the public online at no charge within 12 months of publication. The Administration is seeking views as to whether this policy should be extended to other science agencies and, if so, how it should be implemented.”

Most national security and intelligence agencies, however, met the new Open Government Directive with silence, as if it did not concern them.

But many such agencies maintain unclassified databases that are potentially of great public interest, and that ought to be broadly accessible.  We have nominated two candidates in particular for disclosure under the new open government policy.

First, there is CREST (CIA Records Search Tool), the CIA’s database of declassified historical records.  It contains millions of pages of redacted records that have already been processed for public release.  CREST is available at the National Archives in College Park, MD.  Yet the CIA has refused to publish CREST online, or to release a copy to others so that they could.  Now would be an opportune time to do so.  (See “CREST Leaves Cavity in Public Domain,” Secrecy News, April 6, 2009).

Another major record group that we believe ought to be public are the unclassified reports and analyses of the Director of National Intelligence’s Open Source Center.  This is a slightly more complicated case since many OSC products include copyrighted material that cannot readily be published without permission.  But many other OSC products are purely discursive and analytical and could be published without difficulty if there were a will to do so.  A selection of OSC products that were obtained by Secrecy News may be found here.

Writing on the White House blog yesterday, Special Counsel to the President Norm Eisen and Open Government Initiative Director Beth Noveck offered their view on “Why an Open Government Matters.”

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