, , , ,

Are open government advocates our frenemies?

cat-and-dogqwqwOpen government advocates create both opportunities and headaches for public administrators. On one hand, exposing government’s information and internal processes to the public strengthens democratic control–a core value of many public administrators. And greater openness can admit creativity and innovation that advance an agency’s mission.

But on the other hand, public administrators work in an environment full of blame, deserved and undeserved. Obscurity provides some shelter. We may fear that if information is released, it will be misunderstood or mischaracterized to pin blame on us. The more cynical view is from Yes Minister, “If they don’t know what we’re doing, they won’t know what we’re doing wrong.”

Another headache comes from competing claims for loyalty. Public servants should be loyal to the public. But our superiors all the way up the hierarchy want us to be loyal to them. The surest way to be punished in a government agency is to allow the higher-ups to be embarrassed. When we are open with the public, we reduce our superiors’ ability to control information.

We will examine these problems and look for solutions at the panel Open Government: Civil Servants encounter Civil Society, at the ASPA conference, March 14-18, 2014 in Washington DC. I’m recruiting panelists and sponsors now. I welcome your ideas at http://opengovernmentpanel.wordpress.com/

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

David B. Grinberg

It’s a fairly simple solution to me: agency leadership should further empower the public affairs shop and communications offices do their jobs, as appropriate, regarding open gov and greater transparency. Veteran gov commincators know how to make the best judgments based on internal and external factors.


I think what has been grossly underestimated by the Obama Administration, who are promoting Open Gov and participation in the OGP, is the level of incompetence and malfeasance in government, that is just part of day-to-day ops. The unfortunate reality is that gov is in a transitional time, where the old models of cover-ups and manipulation of internal investigations won’t work in the digital/social media age where everyone has a voice on the web.

There are so many retired, former and even current employees who are willing to tell the truth at the risk of losing out on job opportunities in government. So there will be an inevitable pain point in most of the agencies, as the worst offenders are exposed and removed from positions of authority. DoD is leading the way with the sexual assault issue, but there are other problems too: alcohol abuse, fraud, waste, nepotism, cronysim, discrimination, retaliation, etc. It’s clean up time.

Dennis Boyer

If we want to pretend we’re a democracy, openness and accountability go with the territory. My sole area of tolerance for “secrecy” is operational security for military and covert ops with ongoing hazards.