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Chopra: Open Gov Directive Coming in 'Weeks'

WASHINGTON -- Aneesh Chopra, the nation's first federal CTO, pledged this morning that the government will issue a sweeping open-government directive within "literally weeks," making good on the oldest promise of the administration.

The day after his inauguration, President Obama issued the first edict in his new office. It was his open government directive, calling on his yet-to-be-named chief technology officer to coordinate a plan with the various agencies within 120 days to marshal Obama's charge to make the mechanics of Washington more transparent, participatory and collaborative.

On the 120th day of the young administration, Chopra secured Senate confirmation to step into the new position.

Taking office the day of his deadline, Chopra obviously wasn't able to meet Obama's timetable. But open government is coming, and soon, he promised.

"You will see every agency in the federal government will be directed to publish and engage the public ... in their open government plans," Chopra said this morning at the Gov 2.0 Summit, a conference on technology and government co-hosted by O'Reilly Media and TechWeb.

The White House tech team got the ball rolling in May, when they opened the section of the official site, WhiteHouse.gov/Open, initiating an online brainstorming session with a wiki where the public could submit ideas for how to apply Obama's open-government principles across the federal bureaucracy.

What followed was the same set of spirited arguments that play out across the discussion forums on Wikipedia, Chopra said.

Now, Chopra is working with the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration to finalize the open government directive.

The first pillar of the directive will be a mandate prevailing on the agencies to enact structural changes so that the open government principles become part of their institutional fabric, Chopra said, effectively "hardwiring our agency accountability for open government."

He said the idea was to ensure that notion of an IT-enabled open government would not be tethered to a particular administration or agency head, instead effecting a more fundamental shift where transparency would become the standard way of doing business in Washington.

As part of the directive, every agency would be required to develop and communicate a plan for reaching out to citizens and engaging them in their work developing policy.

A lofty goal, to be sure, and one that has still has its fair share of skeptics who have charged the administration with more promise than delivery on the open-government front. Some critics have been inclined to view the Web sites and new-media initiatives the administration has launched as more lip service to a new collaborative era, rather than the real article.

[cob:Special_Report]But Chopra spoke of the administration's open government initiative as a gradual process, but one that nonetheless signals a fundamental shift.

"We are piloting tools that would basically serve as proxy for what had historically been the domain of meetings and forums for those who have a Washington-centric point of view," he said. "We have a dramatic change in the way we're approaching public participation."

Another component of the coming directive on open government to call in the agencies to bring more data online, and to make it available in a machine-readable format, rather than the PDFs that are often the vessels for government documents.

That idea, whose beginnings can be seen in the Web site Data.gov, is essentially to turn the government storehouse of information into a platform for innovation. O'Reilly Media CEO Tim O'Reilly compared the concept to the iPhone, Apple's wildly popular smartphone that set in motion an app revolution when it opened its platform to developers.

"The smartphone used to work is a lot like the way Gov 1.0 worked," O'Reilly said. Now, less than a year-and-a-half later, Apple's App Store offers some 70,000 applications. "That's the power of a platform," O'Reilly said.