Open 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/