Open government was a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s 2008 bid for the White House, and the administration’s focus on being as transparent as possible has continued throughout its first term. Specifically, through Executive Order 13526, Obama pledged that the government would take a closer look at Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in an effort to declassify more information and comply with inquiries quicker than ever.
However, too often the view of how to attain greater government transparency is skewed toward social media use. While releasing information the public through such means is good start, that’s certainly not the be-all, end-all of transparency.
Federal agencies and organizations should be taking a closer look at their records management programs. There is much to be gained by investing in new means for storing, organizing and maintaining information.
Begin at the Information Level
The first step toward becoming more transparent through records management is to understand the information you have. From citizens’ tax forms and Social Security documents to public employee records and government contracts, data is flowing in and out of agencies on a constant basis.
Furthermore, to make the records management initiative successful, the complete involvement of senior leadership is needed. The highest reaches of an organization should be involved in this process. When the higher-ups are keen on managing information, others will follow suit.
Use Technology Where Appropriate
Echoed by the Obama White House’s November 2011 memorandum, it’s important that government organization use technology to their advantage where appropriate. Services such as document imaging and digitization can relieve the burden of paper records, while also ensuring you’re hanging onto the information the public may via FOIA request.
Engage the Public
A government can further transparency by proactively delivering information to the public and leverage the knowledge of citizens to enhance decisions. In addition, engaging the public will also improve its perception of the government.
This can be accomplished by first, making information available in public forums and other areas of the web. Then secondly, craft government records management practices with an eye toward how they affect FOIA requests.
Focus on Cooperation
An open government is made up of cross-organizational and departmental cooperation and collaboration.
While the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs openly collaborate for the management of soldiers’ medical information, others within the federal government should be taking note. In terms of FOIA, sharing information across departments will make it easier to heed the requests of the public.