• Self-Evaluating Open Government Plans

    by  • April 28, 2010 • eGovernment

    The Obama administration has recently released a scorecard of the agency open government plans (The scorecard is available here) that were just completed. It is great that the administration is releasing these scorecards and giving the community some insight into how they are evaluating success.

    But as a former fed with some moderate experience with scorecards and performance management, I am extremely disappointed by the scorecard and how the plans are being evaluated. Why am I disappointed? Because of the following three things:

    • No one failed. Every agency’s plans either received a yellow or a green on the traffic light dashboard. If everybody passed, that tells me something is wrong. This doesn’t mean that agency employees aren’t working hard to implement the mandate, it just means that there was no way they could fail – any effort counted.  It is interesting that most of the yellows showed up where the agencies self-evaluated, so there is at least some self-reflection.
    • The bar wasn’t set high enough. When you look through the criteria, it is obvious that the criteria are set pretty low. For example, when it comes to data integrity, the agency just had to have assigned a high-level senior official to the effort to meet expectations and get a green. That doesn’t mean that they have actually had to do anything.  Or another example, for public consultation there just has to be a mechanism for public feedback to score a meets expectation or a green.  It doesn’t matter whether it is easy to use, or anybody from the public has actually commented, or that anybody from the agency has responded to a public comment. An email link looks like it is enough.
    • A majority of it is based on self-evaluation. Six of the ten criteria are self-scored by the agency according to a checklist (available here). I don’t know about anyone else in government, but the one time I tried to self-score one of my agencies on the PART evaluation as a red, I was quickly told during a review by a political appointee that scoring ourselves a red was embarrassing to the agency and the administration, and was not acceptable. I tried to argue the truth, but since when has the truth won out in a political question?  The fact of the matter is very few agencies have the ability to fail themselves, even though there a re likely some that didn’t meet the criteria.

    The Bottom Line: There are some agencies and government employees that are doing the difficult work of making agencies more open and transparent. For that I applaud them. I also applaud the administration for evaluating the open government plans, but there are definite indications that this isn’t a true and fair evaluation of what agencies could accomplish.   If the administration is serious about this, then bring in a neutral third party that can really evaluate what agencies are doing. What do you think?