By David Swanson
You might want to hurry because the open government is about to close. Participation in the “Brainstorming” phase 1 of President Obama’s online Open Government Initiative only lasts from May 21st to May 28th. To find it, go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/open You’ll see listed there three phases, with the “Discuss” and “Draft” phases not yet active. But you can click on the “Brainstorming” phase until it ends, which will take you to http://opengov.ideascale.com And if you’re too late, you can join in the “Discuss” phase of governance.
I was a latecomer too and didn’t post my own proposal until May 26th. Yet that proposal (a somewhat lengthy set of actions aimed at restraining presidential power and titled “End Imperial Presidency“) is, as of very early on the 28th, ranked #1 in the category of “Legal & Policy Challenges” with 198 more positive than negative votes. In second place, with 153 net positive votes, is legalizing marijuana.
This blog post will get more comments on it than the number of people participating in the Open Government, and yet I hope that phases 2 and 3 bear some semblance of a direct relationship to what was brainstormed in phase 1. I actually like several of the ideas other than my own.
There are four other categories for proposals, plus the category of “uncategorized.” And most of the categories have subcategories. The award for best refusal to lock your brainstorming in a closet has to go to the participants in the subcategory of “Public-Private Partnerships.” Virtually no one showed any interest in this topic, and the winning entry, with 29 (net positive) votes is “Get Rid of Private Prisons.” So much for public-private partnerships.
Of course, the dismal turnout for Open Government participation has been registered by those who have turned out. In the subcategory of “Communications Strategies,” the winning entry with 47 votes is “Educating the Public about Using This Technology,” a proposal that essentially asks for an explanation of the website on which it is proposed.
The award for the teabaggingest nonsensical proposal (although the proposal is actually better than its headline), goes to an entry pulling in 109 votes to top the “Uncategorized” category: “Communicating science transparently and without government interference.” Bear in mind that this is a proposal for the government to act on without interfering in it.
Far and away the most votes went to the winning entry in the “Making Government Operations More Open” subcategory. A full 587 votes (as of early on the 28th) went to “Support a 72-Hour Mandatory Public Review Period on Major Spending Bills,” a proposal I fully support.
But then there was the give-us-cartoons campaign. The winning entry in the “Making Data More Accessible” subcategory with 129 votes is “Use Visual recording and mini animations to convey complex ideas.”
A number of winning entries simply repeated the idea of the open government initiative or modified it to fit the particular subcategory, essentially proposing approval for the act of making a proposal. In the subcategory of “Collaboration Between Federal Agencies,” the winning proposal with a grand total of 35 votes is “Encourage, support, and fund interagency initiatives, programs, and projects.” Go team! Another winning proposal: “Fully fund participation and collaboration activities.” Also: “Encourage State and Local Governments to Become More Open and Inclusive.” And: “Hold Agencies Accountable for Implementing the Open Government Directive.”
Most of the brainstormed proposals involve rather arcane changes to the bureaucracy of Washington, D.C. But the Open Government Initiative’s main page presents this overall objective right at the top:
“How can we strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness?”
The category that tests the strength of our democracy at present is the one in which my proposal to end the imperial presidency is in the lead. If that proposal gets unceremoniously deleted prior to phase 2, I’m not going to take that as evidence that we need better FOIA websites or more strategically planned inter-departmental meetings. I’m going to take it as evidence that none of that stuff will fix the problem.
The strongest demands on candidate Obama’s website (for a no vote on telecom immunity) and on President-Elect Obama’s website (for a special prosecutor for Bush and Cheney) were both ignored. If President Obama ignores the top demand this time, my guess is that the next Open Government experiment will have to pay people to participate.