Comparing Open Government in Australia and the United States

Although there are certain differences in tone, the primary goals of both the Australian and American approaches to Open Government are very similar.

As stated by President Obama in the Open Government memorandum, the three main goals of Open Government in the United States are that: “government should be transparent, government should be participatory, and government should be collaborative.”

The Australian government’s goals of “informing, engaging, and participating,” reflect identical initiatives that make government information more widely available, encourage new groups to collaborate with the government, and facilitate participation by the widest possible group of citizens.

One noteworthy difference between the open governmen strategies of the two countries is that the Australian Open Government declaration specifically names strategies that will be used in its implementation. For example the declaration states that: “Agencies are to reduce barriers to online engagement, undertake social networking, crowd sourcing and online collaboration projects and support online engagement by employees, in accordance with the Australian Public Service Commission Guidelines.”

The American Open Government memorandum is vaguer, simply making reference to the use of “innovative tools, methods, and systems” but not any particular tactics or methods. This potentially gives US government agencies more flexibility in their approach to open government, since they do not have to use any particular tool, but also leaves open the possibility that they will generally refrain from using the most advanced and sophisticated methods.

The Australian declaration is also more detailed in its reference to supporting legislative and governmental action, citing the reform of the Freedom of Information Act and the establishment of an Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, as well as the publication of a detailed Government 2.0 Taskforce Report.

The American memorandum, however, came at the start of open government efforts. Rather than citing previous open government accomplishments, it orders OMB and GSA to coordinate the development of Open Government plans that detail precisely how agencies will comply with the general principles of open government.

Finally, perhaps the most significant difference between the American Open Government Memorandum and the Australian Open Government Declaration is that the American document is a formal memorandum signed by the president, whereas the Australian document was released by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. Since the tone, substance, and strategic goals of the two plans are so similar, this is likely a reflection of the underlying structural differences between the Australian (parliamentary) and American (presidential) political systems.