Background Briefing on a Preview of the Open Government Partnership
MODERATOR: Alright everybody. We are here to talk about tomorrow’s Open Government Partnership high-level meeting, which the President will participate in. We have two senior Administration officials for your records. The first is [Senior Administration Official One]. And the second is [Senior Administration Official Two], hereafter known as Senior Administration Official One and Senior Administration Official Two.
We’re going to do something a little unusual today. [Senior Administration Official One] and [Senior Administration Official Two] will both give statements, we’ll have some questions, and then we’re going to take a little minute and [Senior Administration Official Two] is going to brief on the U.S. action plan for the OGP high-level meeting. The reason we’re doing it that way, the meeting as a whole and questions and then a separate little brief on the U.S. national action plan is that we have to embargo that second piece until 7 o’clock tomorrow morning when it goes up on the website. So we will talk about the mission of this conference as a whole, and then we will have that part available to you immediately, and then the second piece on the U.S. national action plan available – embargoed until 7 a.m.
Okay. With that, Senior Official Number One, take it away.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Good afternoon. Let me begin by describing what the Open Government Partnership is, so that we then proceed to entertain questions and to give you a better idea of what we are seeking to do.
This initiative really starts with a challenge that President Obama made at the last UNGA meeting, and I’m going to read to you what he said. He said in his speech before the General Assembly: “And when we gather back here next year, we should bring specific commitments to promote transparency, energize civic engagement, fight corruption, and to leverage new technologies so that we strengthen the foundation of freedom in our own countries while living up to the ideals that can light the world.”
So against this concept, what the Open Government Initiative tries to do is really bring countries together to be able to address precisely these three areas that are really the core principles of this effort for countries to – and governments to become, on the one hand, more transparent in the way in which they carry out their activity, and that more transparent basically means making more information available to the public about the operations of a government. And we can detail that more, but that can be everything from making budgets available, from doing a variety of different things that just makes a government more transparent in the way that it carries out its work.
The second way of doing this was to engage civic participation more, in other words to be able to have members of society be able to contribute to the way in which government makes decisions and to bring their ideas, their expertise, even their innovations in order to be able to help government make policy.
Both of these things together then lead to the third core concept behind this Open Government concept, which is accountability. That is governments really being more responsible to the public for the decisions that they make and for the way that they make them.
So these are the core concepts behind this area of open government. And it brings to it also the use of technology in order to be able to make governments more accountable, because there are so many technologies available that can enable a government also to communicate this kind of information more effectively. Those principles, really, once the President gave this challenge, it really brought eight countries together to form a steering committee, if you will, that then began to really look at this very seriously, and decided that these countries, in seriously committing themselves to these ideas which are still somewhat broad and amorphous, would develop action plans, government action plans, that would address themselves to one or more of these areas that I’ve just discussed. And in fact, these – this steering committee of eight countries, and the eight countries that were involved in this, included the United States, the UK, Norway, Mexico, the Philippines, Indonesia, South Africa, and Brazil.
And these countries also identify the major areas that are the big challenges that all governments face as they try to address corruption and to address other areas. They call these the grand challenges, and these had to do with five areas: how governments deliver public services to people; this is particularly important in every country. How can you address and understand better that issue? How can governments increase their sense of integrity and relationship to the public? How can they demonstrate how they’re managing public resources, how they’re using the resources in order to carry out their activities; how they’re making communities safer, what mechanisms they’re using to do that; and how they are also creating corporate accountability in regards to governments.
So these are the areas that governments started to develop national action plans, these eight governments. These eight governments then invited other countries to see if there really was an interest in addressing and making governments more open and if other countries around the world were interested in this. And in July, the steering committee held a meeting that was held at the Department of State that was attended by 60 countries that send high-level officials to inquire and to look into this concept of open government, and to see if they themselves wanted to participate and develop action plans in order to be able to do this themselves. As a result of that meeting, we have a meeting then tomorrow that is going to be a high-level meeting of heads of state and foreign ministers that is going to bring to the table an additional 38 countries, this – the eight original, plus 38 countries that are coming on board from all regions in the world and that are now going to commit themselves to take direct action on addressing issues that have to do with transparency and accountability in their own government.
The important – one very important characteristic of this Open Government Partnership is that it is a collaboration between a government and civil society in the country. So the civil society organizations are also part of the steering committee. So the steering committee, from the very beginning, has had nonprofit organizations that are addressing these issues of transparency, accountability, that are following them up, that have developed considerable expertise in these areas. And they are working hand in hand with the governments. This is a very unusual way of addressing these issues, so that the steering committee that has been doing this work is not just eight governments but it’s also nine civil societies that have been involved, and we will continue to engage with them in a very tight partnership, if you will, that we’ll be working together.
And I would just end and ask High-Level Government Number Two to be able to add to what I say, but there’s three characteristics to this Open Government. First, it’s voluntary. Countries are coming in on their own decision, and they are coming in once they’ve already demonstrated that they are really interested in this area. Not anybody can come in, but countries already have to demonstrate that they’ve done things like freedom of information acts or have established laws or have demonstrated that they really do want to be more transparent. But it is voluntary.
The second one is that it is a partnership, and it’s a partnership between government and civil society in each country. So putting together action plans means a consultative process with the civil society in each country.
And third is that it’s flexible. And by flexible, we mean that really each country is going to address these issues in a very different way. Mexico might find that some things are more important for it to address if it’s going to make its government more transparent. Indonesia might do something completely differently. South Africa might choose to do something different as well. So countries are selecting the pieces of that huge governments and that one can face and are looking at very specific pieces in which they can develop this capacity and this commitment on the part of their own governments.
So let me stop here and see if you want to add some more.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Great. Thank you, Senior Administration Official One. I would just add or sort of underscore, I guess, six features of this Open Government Partnership, which is really a flagship initiative for President Obama and for Secretary Clinton, who have shepherded this together from the start, from this time last year when the President issued his challenge not only to the world and to the heads of state gathered before him but to also his own Administration, because we, too, as was indicated, have to come back – had to come back with our own specific commitments around promoting transparency, fighting corruption, harnessing new technology to empower citizens.
The first point I would make is simply just that the – this Open Government Partnership grows directly out of President Obama’s own leadership domestically on open government. As many of you know, in his first week in office, he issued an open government directive predicated on three principles and [Senior Administration Official One] has alluded to these a little bit, but just to underscore. One, that government has a responsibility to provide information that citizens can use. That’s kind of an important feature of what government does. Citizens need information; government often has it, and sometimes it’s too inaccessible.
Second, crucially, governments do not by any means have a monopoly on good ideas about how to govern. And we benefit enormously from the dispersed knowledge, dispersed information that is out there among the citizenry. So the more that we can get feedback and inputs and ideas and innovation from out in the public, the better off we are.
And then thirdly, as the old Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis used to say, sunlight is the best of disinfectants. Open government is critical because it makes government accountable to the people. If they can see in, they know what they like, what they don’t like, and they can press for more or less.
So these were the sort of three core concepts. And in many ways, the Open Government Partnership takes these concepts and the whole idea of open government global. In many ways, while President Obama issued this challenge to the world in September of last year, his speech last year, I think, or the importance of this issue, as was underscored in his speech, was only underscored by the Arab Spring which followed. So many of the drivers of discontent, of protest, and ultimately of democratic transformation and transition are the issues at the heart of this partnership. So we feel incredibly fortunate that we have begun, true to the concept of open government, to begin to get information from around the world in a forum that will be readily available to the new government in Tunisia when it takes over or to any government or civil society organization interested in learning from the experience of other countries and other constituent groups.
The second point I would underscore is the critical role that emerging democracies are playing in this partnership. Brazil is the co-chair, with the United States, but present from the creation with the United States were South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico, and Brazil. And we think that this is a critical example of the essential role that these democracies have to play in leading beyond their borders on issues related to democracy and governance.
Third – and you will see this tomorrow at the event that President Obama will host and co-chair with President Dilma – civil society really is a partner in this initiative. It can be said as a cliché in many settings, civil society is a partner, but here, really and truly, the steering committee for this initiative consists of eight governments and nine civil society organizations. And you will see sitting around a horseshoe table tomorrow eight governments and one civil society representative of the other eight civil society organizations that are there. Those will be the nine speakers. But then interspersed around the table will be the 38 governments who are committing to join the partnership anew, and among them will be eight more civil society organizations. So this is a very unusual event in terms of the interspersing of heads of state, ministers, and activists, ultimately, and organizers and advocates for transparency and against corruption from around the world. And so I would note that distinguishing – genuinely distinguishing – feature of this partnership.
The fourth feature I think is worth just noting – and again, we’ll talk about this perhaps after this briefing, but is that the United States is asking – and President Obama did ask others to make specific commitments, but he asked the same of his own Administration. And as you know, the President has said from the very beginning that our best form of democracy leadership around the world comes from the strength of our own example. And so while, yes, other countries are delivering plans tomorrow, so too is the United States, and it was a very rigorous and taxing process that gave rise to that plan. It’s a very serious plan, and we took our commitment to the partnership and the President’s own summons very, very seriously. And so this is a domestic plan that is really quite formidable.
Fifth, and this builds on what [Senior Administration Official One] said right at the – what Senior Government Official One said right at the end there, which is that this is – the Open Government Partnership puts forth accountability by the people. And by that, it, again can sound a little bit abstract, but throughout the international system, there are metrics and there are lists, and there are special rapporteurs for this or that, and there are resolutions that condemn or praise. What this does is it leaves it up to countries to develop their own vision for how they’re going to advance these core principles. They can put forth their own timeline. There’s not going to be somebody looking over their shoulder and publishing a UN report saying they’re deficient in this way or that way, but they will be accountable to civil society in their own societies.
The requirement of the Open Government Partnership is that every national action plan is produced in consultation with civil society. If a plan is produced absent those consultations, then it isn’t something that will allow a country to enter into the partnership. So there are no specifics about what has to be in the plan as such beyond the broad issue areas that have been alluded to, but there is a core process requirement, and that is that civil society has to be at the table in figuring out what those commitments are, and ultimately, civil society will judge whether implementation has occurred up to standard.
And then the last point I would make about the partnership is that ultimately we’ve come a very long way in a very short time. Tomorrow we’ll have eight national action plans that will be published and available to you, will go up on an Open Government website. We hope that many of those plans will become models for other countries that are looking to innovate in this space and haven’t perhaps had exposure to some of what’s going on in particular crannies of the world. So we believe that the Open Government website itself is a tremendous resource.
But ultimately, the measure of the success of this partnership – and President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been very firm about this – is the impact on the ground. Are freedom of information laws put through parliaments and rushed through – and driven through cabinets? Is -- are the assets of high-level officials put forward in a transparent way? Are we able to see oil, gas, mineral resources transparency in how those books are kept so that civil society knows that taxpayer dollars are going where they should go, et cetera, et cetera.
The measure of the Open Government Partnership in the end will be whether or not countries are doing things that they otherwise would not have done had this challenge not been issued and had this partnership not been launched. We are quite confident that that is already happening, but I think that’s why it’s so important that we engage citizens around the world to hold governments accountable, including our own, to the plans that these eight governments put forward tomorrow.
The very last thing I’d say just as a process point because it might be a little bit confusing, again to reiterate, the steering committee governments that have been mentioned, including the emerging democracies and we ourselves, will put forward national action plans that have been developed in consultation with civil society. The other 38 countries that will be at the table tomorrow are those that have committed to join this partnership going forward and they have committed to delivering national action plans in March of 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. So all of us at that point will become part of the Open Government Partnership together, but we thought it was very important to start with the steering committee practicing what it has been preaching. So thank you.
MODERATOR: Can we get the address for the website, first so that everybody has it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yes. We can. It is being launched tomorrow and therefore does not roll off the tongue. I think it is – I shouldn’t --
MODERATOR: Okay. We’re going to find it before this briefing is over. But (inaudible) with questions --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) why – has it struck anyone as odd to a briefing about open government and transparency on background?
QUESTION: Why is that necessary?
MODERATOR: There will be another briefing at – are you doing another briefing afterwards that’s on the record? I think you are. No? No. I think not.
QUESTION: Just so you understand this, we have to explain why officials are speaking anonymously. And if anyone is going to write – at least I do, and I think others do as well. But to write a story talking about U.S. officials anonymously plugging an Obama initiative for open government just – it makes – I’m sorry. It just makes --
MODERATOR: Because the event is happening tomorrow. The President will be on the record with his counterparts tomorrow. This is a preview, and it’s a preview by senior Administration officials below the level of the President. So the President will speak on the record tomorrow, but this is a preview.
QUESTION: But how does that advance the very goals you’re discussing, which are transparency and accountability. The two people who have spoken to us are not identified, so there’s no transparency about who they are. And because they speak under a cloak of anonymity, there is no particular accountability of what they’ve said. I mean, I cannot believe that you – this didn’t occur to anybody, and I don’t think the fact that the President’s going to announce it tomorrow is a very persuasive argument for not disclosing who you are.
MODERATOR: We are seeking to be transparent about what’s going to happen tomorrow. If you’d prefer us not to do that, then we don’t need to do that. But our thought was that it was better to give you a preview without preempting our President, and that’s what we’re endeavoring to do. Are there questions before --
QUESTION: I have a question. I kind of – it’s kind of along the lines of, like, the Community of Democracies and things like that. Like, likeminded – it’s good for likeminded nations to come together into a club where they promote the principles at their end, but how do you translate this into getting other countries that are not – I mean, I don’t know countries that aren’t transparent or accountable that are going to be, like, “Gee, I wish I was in the Open Government Partnership,” because they don’t want to be. I mean, so how do you make this something that less transparent nations want to do?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I’d just say briefly, and my colleague may wish to join in here, I mean, we struggled with the question of how inclusive and how exclusive the partnership should be. If you make it exclusive, you have a great sort of brand of all the most innovative and transparent and accountable governments in the world. But frankly, the difference it would make for real people in the world would be at the margins. It would get incrementally better because they’d share best practices and that would be a good thing. But the more we looked into it, the more we noted that organizations like the OECD and others already venues for that kind of information exchange.
So without – so opening up the partnership that countries that are not at all sensitive to democracy or to human rights, we decided to – and we – when I say “we,” I mean, the steering committee of countries that I’ve mentioned, that [Senior Administration Official One] – or my colleague has mentioned – these countries came together and came up with a set of minimum criteria. The minimum criteria are on the following issues: fiscal transparency, asset disclosure, freedom of information, and civil liberties.
Now, the – but having said that, the minimum criteria were quite minimum. We were very eager to have regional representation and diversity, and I actually think if you have the list in your hand there, if you look at the list of countries who are here, whether it’s Albania or Azerbaijan or – the list goes on and on, some of the countries in Africa where you have very strong leadership in particular ministries but a very strong desire on the part of the head of state to share information and to learn from countries that have been trying to fight corruption perhaps for longer, or they’ve just come to power and they’re very eager to roll up their sleeves and the ministries are entrenched in particular directions. So I think – and we, again, the United States, we have learned a ton just from listening to our colleagues in the partnership, including from countries who aren’t part of the OECD and so forth.
So we actually have struggled to find that sweet spot which would bring in countries that would actually have enormous amounts to gain, and also those countries that have been doing this for longer, into a kind of conversation where that – the gap between them in terms of stages of development and stages of progress on fighting corruption would be far greater than some of the more exclusive clubs that exist out there in the international community.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: The only thing that I would add to that is that this initiative really taps into something that was already going on there, which was the degree to which governments were already addressing some of the issues related to corruption, some of the big issues that confront every government, which is, how do you break through some of those factors that keep governments from really functioning as effectively as they should? And a lot of these issues are often perceived to be overwhelming, and governments can’t do anything about them. But this initiative really taps into some of the things that governments are already doing.
And we – I think were – in July when we put this idea forth, we were really quite amazed at the degree to which governments around the world were really giving a lot of importance to this issue and were already acting on it. And so those are the ones that really came up to the plate and are now saying yeah, we want to be part of this effort. So it really – it is one way in which governments can very concretely begin to address these issues that have concerned governments as far back as we can think.
QUESTION: Other than Jordan and Israel, I didn't see any Mideast countries, I didn't see any Arab Spring countries on that list. Are you talking with the TNC about whether they’re in a position to buy into this now? Was engaging Egypt remotely a consideration, or did it just seem like ridiculous; why even bother right now? And can you tell us concretely what is the U.S. doing to expand what the President has already done in terms of open government?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I think on your second question, if we could just wait, because that’s embargoed until tomorrow. Yeah. So I’m happy to talk you through that. And on your first, an incredibly important question in many ways, this partnership was made for those countries who undergo transitions, find themselves suddenly with people in power who come to power on a wave of fervor around citizen empowerment and anti-corruption and then are looking for the tricks of the trade and looking for mentorship and looking for partnership and looking for resources and so forth.
So right now, again, this is – tomorrow is the launch of the Open Government Partnership. It’s just the beginning. But because of the minimum criteria that we felt it was important to have, as you mentioned, those countries are not yet part of the partnership. They – even with the changes in administration, when it comes to fiscal transparency, asset disclosure, and right to information laws and so forth, it’s just going to require a little bit of time. That said, everybody who’s a part of the partnership recognizes that one of its primary functions is to render itself and these resources available to those countries where that political will exists. And we’ve already begun conversations with the Tunisians, as an example. And we are thinking through, again, in March of 2012, another round of national action plans will be delivered by the 38 countries who have signaled their intent to so.
At that meeting as well, we’re considering these are the ways in which we might have observers or people who can be in the room benefiting from the kind of energy – because I should also note that the private sector is a part of these events as well, along with civil society, and so all of the kind of tools that are available – government, private sector foundations, civil society – are all there. And we agree that it is critical that those people around the world who are trying to serve their citizens have access to that, irrespective of whether they’re in a club or in a partnership or not in a partnership.
The last thing I’d say, just also because it relates to the prior question, there are a number of countries that didn’t make it in terms of the minimum criteria, not for the reasons that the Arab Spring countries didn’t make it, but just that they – where it was sort of surprising to us, countries that we would’ve seen as good governance countries, but we needed some criteria. These were the criteria that seemed to mesh with the challenge that the President issued last year. We are working with those countries, because of the State Department’s leadership on the ground and in the field and the fact that it’s out there, to partner with them to try to ensure that they can actually be part of the partnership because they come to meet the criteria.
QUESTION: Like India?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: India actually met the criteria, but – and itself was very much invited to be part of the partnership, but as of this point has chosen not to. I would say that Indian civil society is represented in the – on the steering committee and have been hugely helpful.
But just to stress, our goal is to – is for countries to make progress and for there to be changes that are brought about because there’s this partnership out there and they want to be a part of it. So we also – we’re seeing that while there’s a cost to not having everyone in the room, there’s also an appeal because it may – we’re actually seeing countries seek to rush decisions through parliaments and to have cabinet discussions that weren’t happening prior to the existence of this initiative.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I would just clarify that when we are using the word we, and we’re talking about the possessive our, we are really representing the steering committee. This is not a statement of the U.S. Government. So, for example, the criteria that was developed to choose countries was developed by this steering committee of eight countries. And there were about 84 countries that really met the criteria. But of those, because I said this is voluntary, we have these 38 that have come forth and said we can commit ourselves to developing action plans and to moving this forward. So I think that part is an important one to highlight.
The second one is that there’s a great deal of attention being paid in this initiative to the role of technology and to the role even of social media and the way it can actually help governments become more transparent. And there’s a great deal of effort to work with technology companies that can actually help create software and other tools that can be useful for governments, to put out their budgets, to put information forward on different databases that they think would be important for their citizens, to do a variety of different things that would be – to use Facebook to help people make decisions in a government, and so on. So the role of technology is something that is allowing governments to do something that perhaps even 10 years ago would’ve been very difficult to do.
QUESTION: I just want to take the point of countries put out action plans, and then you said civil society will hold them accountable. So say civil society in particular country says they’re not doing enough and the government says I’m doing enough, who arbitrates? Who decides? How does this actually get implemented and held accountable? And I’m thinking here of Forum for the Future, where again a lot of the Arab countries were really supposed to be pushed forward through civil society and you had them at the table. And most of the civil society participants were, like, this is ridiculous because we’re not really actually going to get anything done. So what are the lessons that have been learned from previous experiences that you’re (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I think it’s a great question, and all I can say, I guess, from the standpoint of one who’s on the government side, of course in a vibrant democracy, is that those criticisms and those concerns and that feedback – sometimes it doesn’t feel like feedback; it feels like something else – but is taken just tremendously seriously. And I think our challenge is to use the combination of the peer gatherings and the fact that all of these countries and these ministers are coming and presenting to their peers, and the empowerment of civil society to generate that progress, to use the editorial boards, use the community of journalists and the media generally, use the social networking possibilities and the Facebook pages and the campaigns around particular commitments or particular deviance from particular commitments. I mean, I think there’s no question that, as with everything, including in our own lives, there are always implementation challenges to the commitments that we make.
But I would – even in stipulating that that’s a challenge, and in stipulating that this sort of energy that we create in this launch will have a lot to do with how much citizen demand is generated, right? And so if a government develops a national action plan and buries it in the dead of night and civil society doesn’t even hear about it – right? – then it’s going to be less likely to create that kind of interplay. That’s one of the reasons that the national action plans require civil society consultation in their development. So a national action plan that hasn’t included that to begin with, again, won’t, as I said earlier, won’t count for admission to the partnership.
But having stipulated all of that and agreeing sort of with the premise of your question, that there are challenges here, I think the way President Obama has looked at this, Secretary Clinton, those of us who are trying to help implement it, is are we better off with this stickiness, this Velcro that is the Open Government Partnership, or would we be better off allowing gravity to take its course?
So this is an action-forcing event. It’s not a miracle worker, but what it does is it creates a hook. And this is the message that we’ve gotten from civil society all around the world. I mean, the Azerbaijani civil society, the message from them is this is great, we can use this, we will drive this. It’s not a panacea, but it is a new tool that they didn’t have prior to the President making the speech and issuing the challenge that he did last year and prior to the Secretary following through and getting all these countries to come to the table.
MODERATOR: I’m conscious that we have about ten minutes till one of our briefers has to go. Should we move on to the U.S. National Action Plan? And just to remind everybody that this piece is embargoed until 7:00 tomorrow morning. And before we start that, just to tell you that the website for the Open Government Partnership is www.opengovpartnership.org.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Before we go into the National Action Plan, I would reemphasize that this is a point of entry, a concrete point of entry, for governments to address issues that are very big and that they are not going to solve entirely by being part of this partnership. But what it does do is it does demonstrate their commitment to advancing towards improved governance in their own countries. And that, I think, is the important mechanism here. It’s one way in which we can begin to not only give tools to governments to start addressing this, but also make them accountable. And by joining this Open Government Partnership, they are committing themselves to using these tools and to making themselves accountable.
And so over the process we would love to be able to see every country on the globe be part of this Open Government Partnership and advance in their own process of improving their own governance, and that’s certainly something that we want to be able to do as well.
MODERATOR: Good. Now on to the (inaudible)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Okay. So this is the embargoed part. Maybe I’ll just give a few highlights from the other plans that have come in, which will also be posted to the website that [Moderator] mentioned, and then just run through, again, just a few of the highlights in the U.S. plan. But again, what’s been – we just came from the steering committee meeting and heard the governments talk about the processes that they had gone through to come up with these plans. Many expressed frustration that they hadn’t had more time, so there are a lot of decisions, I think, that are pending for all of us on the kind of 80-yard line. But nonetheless, again, this was an action-forcing event, I think, for all the countries involved.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Eighty-yard line?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: On a football field that has 100 yards. (Laughter.) So the – Brazil – basically, there are a lot of sort of buckets that one could think about, delivering public information, gender equality, open data, citizen participation, service delivery, public integrity, government transparency – so just a few. Brazil is going to increase transparency in open data, including restructuring its Transparency Portal and launching the Brazil Open Data Portal. And that’s basically to ensure the future enactment of the access to information law, which is just going – it’s basically pending, but they’re trying to use this initiative, in part, to drive through.
Norway’s plan consists of a series of pledges around gender equality and women’s participation in the private sector, public administration, political processes, equal pay. The UK has made a series of pledges around improving its open data efforts. Some of you know that this is something the United States and the Obama Administration has spent a lot of time thinking about, the Data.gov. We’ve posted 390,000 – more than 390,000 data sets that are being used by citizens and civil society groups and private sector in creating businesses and holding – using government data, such as on the crib safety or on airline flight arrival delays, et cetera, to turn it into information that’s useful for citizens. That’s what a number of the other plans are now experimenting with.
And the Philippines will extend participatory budgeting, which means citizen involvement in the budgeting process, across the government to 12 government departments by 2012, and they’re establishing an empowerment fund to support bottom-up involvement in developing – development planning and budgeting, including using social audits as a tool for monitoring implementation. And this is all kind of basic public administration, but in these kinds of pledges, I think that this is where sort of change happens.
The United States – probably the biggest announcement that the President will make tomorrow is that the United States is going to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Some of you may know about EITI, as it’s come to be known. It’s a voluntary framework in which governments come together with industry, oil, gas, and mineral companies, and with civil society. And basically what you have are governments publicly disclosing what revenues they’re getting from oil, gas, and mineral companies and from those assets. And then the companies are making parallel disclosures regarding the payments that they are making in order to – for them to obtain access to public resources, public lands, and so forth.
This may sound pretty straight forward, and you would hope that there would be no discrepancy between them, but to – not to put too fine a point on it, the U.S. collects approximately 10 billion dollars in annual revenues from the development of oil, gas, and minerals on federal lands and offshore, and disburses these revenues to the U.S. Treasury and other places. And by signing onto this initiative, not only do we put ourselves in a much stronger position to urge developing countries who have even bigger challenges with accountability in this space to be part of this initiative, part of this partnership, but I think citizens can have more assurance that their interests are being promoted and advanced by a really diverse and truly transparent process.
I would note on EITI that this is an important supplement to some of the provisions in Dodd-Frank that also require publicly listed U.S. companies to disclose revenue. So this is – those companies that are not listed are also covered by EITI, so we think we've – the President is going to fill a very important gap in launching U.S. participation.
QUESTION: What does it stand for again?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. The second thing I would highlight – and again, this – the plan is a good old fashioned sort of thick plan. It’s got of little subheadings. You all will get them tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m., should your heart desire. But we are also – the White House is launching a site called “We the People” which is a petition process whereby citizens can petition their government using, of course, the tools, the technology that we have at our disposal. And if they meet a certain threshold, a certain number of signatures, they will get a policy response to generate an internal policy process and then generate a response.
That, I think, has been greeted very favorably. It was previewed last week to some of the groups. What’s also significant though is that we’re going to open source the code for “We the People” so any government or community in the world that wants to make use of this technology will also have it available to it.
We are launching a platform called “ExpertNet” that will enable government officials to search for and communicate with citizens who have expertise on a pertinent topic. Again, this gets to the dispersed knowledge point. And we are – the President also is announcing that we are intending to strengthen protection for whistleblowers, which is an issue that has generated a fair amount of attention. Our preference is to do so with the Congress and to push it over the finish line that way, but in the event the Congress doesn’t act on the whistleblower protections before it, then the Executive Branch will look at what it can do in order to strengthen those protections.
There’s a lot in the plan on records management and on some of the – basically the ways in which we improve what data we actually provide to the public, so a sort of smart disclosure policy that, again, was one of the complaints we heard a lot through the consultations, is that you can’t just throw data, mounds and mounds of data at citizens, that they have to actually have input in that process as well. And so there are a range of steps described in the plan that are aimed at addressing that.
I think because I am not myself a domestic policy expert, I probably – it’s probably not worth me delving much further into the plan. But again, suffice it to say that when we have the technological means, the partnership has spurred us to think through how we might share those means with others. I mentioned the “We the People” as one example. Data.gov, our flagship initiative with the 400,000 data sets on it, is also something that’s going to – there’s an initiative called “Data.gov in a box,” where other countries, again, who are interested in putting online data, let’s say on rations that are given to particular communities or on number of hours worked on the government payroll. Publishing, getting that information out there, allow citizens to compare that information with what they know to be the reality on the ground and to, again, detect gaps or to detect fraud and abuse. And that’s one of the things that’s happened domestically by virtue of us posting so much data, is we’ve been able to get rid of inefficient products on – or inefficient projects in information technology worth several hundred million dollars. And we’re hoping that, again, providing this to other countries can have some of the same effects.
MODERATOR: Good, let’s just take two on this, and then we need to let our briefer go because (inaudible) been here a long time.
QUESTION: Two just quick technical questions. You’re saying that currently it’s not publically available how much a company pays the U.S. Government in royalties each year, by company?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I’m going to – I’m not the person to ask the question. I can put you in touch with – in order to know exactly what the delta is. But my sense is it’s a question of how aggregated the data is and whether it’s done by basically – I mean, I’m sure there’s information somewhere about Shell gives this amount of money to the federal government, but that’s different than disaggregating the data in a way that can be compared usefully, and that’s what I think this initiative takes forward.
QUESTION: Okay. And is the -- you said they’ll get a policy response if they get a certain number of signatures. I assume that just means somebody will give them a comment on their issue; they won’t necessarily respond as an act upon what they want done.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: There’s no guarantee that simply getting a number of signatures would cause you to change the course of American policy, but what it will do is ensure that it gets the high-level attention at the White House, such that somebody is considering it, reflecting on it. And that certainly – that kind of level of deliberation is a prerequisite for change, so it’s not sufficient for change but it is necessary to bring things to senior policy makers’ attention, and that’s what the site will do.
QUESTION: By delta just now, you meant change?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yes. It’s a word I use incurably.
QUESTION: Also, if you gain 80 yards on a football field from the goal line, you’re at the 20.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: That’s true, I guess that’s why my (inaudible) friend was making fun of me. Yes. (Laughter).
MODERATOR: Okay, thank you very much.