Friday, February 12, 2010

DHS Open Government

Washington may have been essentially closed because of weather this week, but DHS has had an interesting operation up and running. It is part of the Obama Administration’s effort to open up the Executive Branch operations to public scrutiny. On Saturday DHS opened their new Open Government web page which Secretary Napolitano officially announced on Monday.

Transparency, Participation and Collaboration This is the initial effort for DHS in their implementation of the new Open Government Directive issued by President Obama. The Department has a deadline to have their new program up and running to “enhance transparency, participation, collaboration and innovation”. They are trying to change a government wide culture of failing to communicate with the public. The pervasiveness of this culture can be seen in even the small things. For example, this web page describes the implementation of the Open Government Directive this way:

“Within 120 days of December 8, 2009, the Department will develop and publish an Open Government Plan that will describe how it will improve transparency and integrate public participation and collaboration into its activities.”
Regular readers of government regulations and documents will find nothing unusual in this statement. People without that background, however, will be a little put off by the phase ‘within 120 days of December 8, 2009’. Wouldn’t it be clearer to most people to just give the date by which the Department will accomplish this task? The web site provides a number of examples of the Department’s existing efforts in ‘Transparency, Participation and Collaboration’. There are links to such pages as: U.S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue Statistics; Quadrennial Homeland Security Review; and San Diego Border Patrol Sector Community. Interestingly, for a ‘Security’ agency, there is only one example given that has anything to do with security issues, and that only remotely. The security related link goes to the Historical Transportation Security Fee Collection Data (TSA) page. DHS missed a major opportunity by not including links to various landing pages for security related issues, like the Critical Infrastructure Protection page or the Chemical Security page. Public Dialogue Since this project is all about including the public in various departmental functions, it is only appropriate that the Department is asking for public input on their public outreach program. Building on last summer’s success with the QHSR Dialogues, the Department has a public dialogue web page. The page will be open accepting comments and public votes upon those comments until March 19th, 2010. Unfortunately, I don’t think that this dialogue will be anywhere near as successful as the QHSR Dialogues, mainly due to the lack of structure on the current page. Where the QHSR dialogue was tightly structured, requesting comments on specific ideas (and using the responses to refine those ideas) the current dialogue simply asks for suggestions in the four categories and asking for the public to ‘vote’ for or against those suggestions. This open ended dialogue has resulted in some very lengthy, wandering documents that provide little in the way of useable suggestions. Further they make reading and voting upon the more valuable suggestions difficult because they clog up the web page, discouraging review and evaluation. The up or down voting on the suggestions will be less valuable than the sliding scale voting method used in the QHSR dialogue. It does reflect the current political environment by assuming that a person can be only for or against something. Unfortunately, that is not the way that things get done in the real world outside of Washington. Every suggestion will have at least some kernel of viability. The binary nature of the current voting does not allow the results to reflect that. Chemical Security Issues Like I did during the QHSR Dialogues, I will be searching through the suggestions being made, looking for those that I think might be of interest to the chemical security community. I’ll periodically share that list with my readers. This will help our community to respond (positively or negatively) to suggestions that could impact chemical security operations. If any reader has posted or does post comments to the Dialogue regarding chemical security issues, please let me know so that I don’t miss them in my review. I will also be making my contributions to the Dialogue and will be sharing those as well. I certainly encourage people to respond to all chemical security related responses, including mine. I will also be happy to provide this blog as a forum for more active participation in the discussion of these security issues. While this blog is certainly not a direct part of the DHS Dialogue, I do know that there are a number of DHS officials that regularly read this blog, so our discussions will be at least unofficially heard.

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