New Report: Opening up the One Agency that Rules Them All

The most powerful federal agency is one no one outside of Washington has heard of. It controls how agencies request money from Congress and spend it, oversees virtually all major rulemakings, controls multi-agency processes, sets federal information policy, and more. In some respects, it’s the tail that wags the White House dog. The agency is the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Seal of the Executive Office of the President. Credit: DonkeyHotey.

Over the course of the Obama administration we’ve made recommendations on how OMB should lighten up — I mean open up. We made recommendations to the administration’s National Act Plan, which is intended to contain actionable open government commitments, drafted guidelines on how agencies can improve proactive disclosure, and suggested how to make earmarks more transparent.

More than six years ago the Obama administration started a new process by which agencies release open government plans every two years. OMB oversees the process and is supposed to issue a plan as well. While OMB issued a plan in 2010, it failed to do so in 2012 and 2014.

Today we issue new recommendations to OMB as to what it should include in its open government plan, which are essentially warmed-over recommendations from 2014. But they’re still good ideas. They include:

  • Publishing Congressional Budget Justifications online in one central place. (I wrote about this yesterday).
  • Creating a machine-readable organization chart of the federal government. (This idea was adopted as part of the National Action Plan last year).
  • Fixing how the government gathers information through forms by making sure they’re well designed, catch input errors, flow easily into databases, and are built for maximum disclosure and reuse.
  • Creating better disclosure for when outside lobbyists push OIRA to change or kill a proposed regulation.
  • Set forth guidelines on how agencies can think through and proactively disclose information they hold.

Frankly, this is a fairly modest list. OMB should be leading on federal spending transparency by pushing forward DATA Act implementation, providing significant assistance to improve implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, rethinking its entire regulatory approval process, reexamining how it implements cost/benefit analysis, setting forth regulations mandating public access to information, and much more.

But there isn’t much useful time left in the administration. We hope OMB will act on the recommendations and issue a substantive open government plan soon, especially with Sunshine Week soon upon us.

— Written by Daniel Schuman