Recs on Making GovInfo More Transparent, Useful, & Accessible

In response to the White House’s announcement of an open government engagement session on increasing federal data access and utility, Demand Progress Education Fund submitted these recommendations for making government information more transparent, useful, and accessible.

The administration announced that, at today’s session, they plan to further define commitments related to:

  • Strengthening access to government information through the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Creating better feedback loops between data practitioners and federal data stewards.

This is music to our ears, even if belated. Accordingly, our recommendations specifically focus on how the federal government can preemptively response to likely requests for information and data, containing step-by-step recommendations on where to focus. We write:

Agencies should set up a process to proactively disclose information that is of interest to the public on an ongoing basis. The FOIA, for example, contemplates both proactive and request-driven disclosures of information of public interest. To help prioritize, agencies should look at requests made through the Freedom of Information Act, via other request-based systems (i.e., specialized forms for a particular dataset or document), and information regularly disclosed by public affairs and congressional relations offices.

Our recommendations spell out how to address this task through the following four steps:

  1. Review how an agency already discloses information to the public.
  2. Form an understanding of how each of these kinds of information request processes work and obtain representative samples of the kinds of request being answered.
  3. Prioritize which kinds of information to disclose based on the frequency of the request, the amount of information routinely disclosed, and whether there is a public interest.
  4. Address additional considerations, including involving stakeholders and looking to see whether others are already (re)publishing this information. Those are good signals for how to prioritize.

In addition, we also point the administration to four additional approaches to handling government information and data:

  • Conduct and publish the federal data inventory, as required by law.
  • Modernize procurement of document management tools both for easy redaction and the proper addition of metadata to comply with disability requirements.
  • Design forms for easy separation of information that can always be disclosed and information that can never be disclosed
  • Design reports and other documents to facilitate automated redaction.

A link to the full report is below.

First page of Recommendations for Making Government Information More Transparent, Useful, and Accessible