Key Area to Consider in Open Government Planning: Internal Directives

Importance of Internal Directives in Open Government Planning: An internal directive can be defined as any type of internal policy instrument for an agency, which can include permanent policies, temporary policies, procedures/guidebooks, and memorandum. For some agencies ‘internal directives’ is used as an umbrella term for all instruments an agency has at its disposal to set internal controls. It will be paramount that internal controls be updated, as appropriate, to allow for the underlying principles of Open Gov to be fully realized throughout the federal government.

The gradual instantiation of Open Gov principles and concepts cannot be realized until internal directives, which vary widely across agencies, are updated to allow for changes in the way government, theoretically, conducts business. The requirements of the Open Government Directive (OGD) now require agencies to leverage citizen knowledge to improve government services – a new frontier. In most agencies, existing policies surrounding Open Gov principles are few and far between, but with the recent release of the OGD this is expected to change. A current list of existing social media policies can be found at http://tinyurl.com/o58r4g.

The speed at which this change can occur will be heavily dependent upon the following:

(1) The political atmosphere and executive buy-in surrounding Open Gov in each agency

(2) The organization, or existence of, an agency Open Gov team/office

(3) Willingness of three critical offices - Office of Policy and Directives (OPD), Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) and Office of General Counsel (OGC) - to work together and create impactful Open Gov policies in a very short timeframe

Open Gov internal directives will involve many different offices, including Public Affairs (OPA), Finance (CFO), Human Resources (HR), Policy (OPD), Information Technology (OCIO), and Legal (OGC), thus the speed at which cutting-edge policies can be released will be heavily dependent upon the Open Gov executive team in place. At DOT, for instance, key organizational executives were prepped for the OGD’s release months in advance, therefore understand its importance and complexity and are better prepared for the creation and approval of new internal directives, allowing for faster implementation of Open Gov at DOT – at least in principle.

Ultimately, the quality and impact of new Open Gov related directives will rely heavily upon two offices – OPD and OCIO. OCIO’s will be a key player and should keep a constant eye on new technologies and IT related innovations, to assist OPD’s in creating and disseminating useful, impactful, and strategic Open Gov policies that will be implemented across their organization, including mission and functional service areas. OPD’s will, ultimately, be responsible for creating the underlying foundation for Open Gov to build of off - the size and strength of which has yet to be determined. Also, OCG will play a key role in the actual writing of new directives and policies, ultimately determining the authority for creating such policies.

Government may not fully understand, nor have the in-house knowledge, to development game-changing Open Gov related internal directives. Agencies, in particular OPD’s and OCIO’s, are encouraged to leverage citizen knowledge and network with industry leaders to better understand Open Gov principles so that policies are better aligned with the ultimate goals of improved transparency, collaboration and participation.

Since policies drive agency activity at all levels, Open Gov internal directives must align with intended outcomes and performance measures to ensure improvement are made in intended areas. These policies must be linked to the performance goals of each agency. The creation of new policies will not be easy, and comes with a bit of uncertainly, risk and new understanding with citizens that will change the face of the federal government. Without new internal policies in place, agencies (and employees) will be hamstrung thus unable to realize the full potential of an open and transparent government.

Linkages with the Open Government Directive: There are several requirements in the Open Government Directive that relate specifically to internal directives, including:

  • Open Gov plans must “describe how the Agency will foster the public’s use of information to increase public knowledge and promote public scrutiny of agency services.” The way in which agency employees are to interact with the public will vary greatly across the government, depending on the legal environment, security controls, and the internal policies in place – as determined by OPD’s , OCIO’s and OGC’s.

  • Open Gov plans must “explain in detail how the Agency will improve collaboration, including steps the agency will take to revise its current practices to further cooperation with other Federal and non-Federal governmental agencies, the public, and non-profit and private entities in fulfilling the agency’s core mission activities.” The internal policies developed must be based on enabling legislation and agency legal requirements, which must be investigated and eventually implemented via internal directives by OPD’s.

  • Open Gov plans must “include any proposed changes to internal management and administrative policies to improve transparency, participation and collaboration.” Internal policy changes required will be vast, and will not happen overnight, but if written in the proper manner will allow for the fundamental tenants of the OGD to be realized.