Beth Noveck, leader of President Barack Obama's government transparency initiative, had a busy first year on the job.
The February 2009 launch of Recovery.gov lets citizens track spending of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money. In March, Obama held an electronic town-hall meeting where he answered questions submitted and ranked in importance by the public. In July, the White House began posting staff salaries in a searchable online database, and over the summer it used a Web-based wiki to let citizens help craft the president's open government policy. In August, federal agencies like the Office of Science and Technology Policy started using blogs to seek public comment on policy decisions. And that's just a partial list.
Noveck, a professor at New York Law School, came to her administration post with strong credentials. In 2007, she helped the U.S. Patent Office launch its Peer-to-Patent program, which uses the Web to engage citizen-experts to help review patent applications. Her experience with that effort led Noveck to write the 2009 release Wiki Government, an influential book on democracy in the digital age.
As Web-based comment and feedback functions proliferate, what sets Noveck apart is a keen focus on results. "It's one thing to build a Web site that gives people a place to submit a suggestion and another thing to create a policy to route the information to the right place, to ensure that there is someone at the other end to receive it," Noveck said last year. "It's not transparency for its own sake ... but toward the end of making better decisions, creating greater accountability and driving better performance."
Noveck spent 2009 putting those ideas into action. Thanks to her efforts, Americans can now collaborate and interact with the policy-making machinery of government.
Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government Technology, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.