Remarks by Ambassador Blake in Panel Discussion at Open Government Partnership Asia-Pacific Regional Conference, Bali

“Keeping an Open Mind – Perspectives from Other Regions”

I am honored by this opportunity to address all of you today on the subject of the United States’ progress toward government openness, and I congratulate President Yudhoyono, Pak Kuntoro and the Indonesia team for organizing this important conference.

We are very proud of President Obama’s strong commitment to open government, but the US journey toward openness did not begin with his election.

In fact, the watershed moment for government openness was the Watergate scandal.

Since many of you weren’t even born then, this was a major scandal that occurred in the 1970s as a result of a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, located in the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., in 1972.  Perhaps even worse than the break-in were the efforts by the administration of then-President Nixon to cover up its involvement.

The scandal led to the discovery of multiple abuses of power by the Nixon administration, articles of impeachment, and ultimately the resignation of President Nixon, the only US President ever to do so

Watergate had a profound effect on our laws relating to government openness, and perhaps more importantly, the American people’s expectations and demands for transparency from their government.

For example, our Freedom of Information Act was amended in 1975 to require a judicial review of every executive claim to secrecy.

In addition, the Inspector General Act of 1978, passed four years after President Nixon’s resignation, created the offices of Inspectors General at all federal agencies.  The inspectors general investigate fraud, waste, misconduct, and abuse within their designated agency.

And in 1989, 15 years after Watergate, Congress passed the Whistleblower Protection Act, which aims to protect government employees who come forward with information pertaining to misconduct, fraud, waste, and abuse.

However, the journey of the United States to government openness of course did not end with these changes.

President Obama and his Administration have demonstrated a strong commitment to open government from the outset.

On his first day in office, the President issued a Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government calling for new measures to promote transparency, participation, and collaboration.

It directed agency heads to harness new technology, engage the public, disclose information quickly, and give citizens a voice in decision-making.

As you all know, in 2011, President Obama in partnership with seven other heads of state, including President Yudhoyono and an equal number of leaders from civil society, launched the Open Government Partnership at the UN General Assembly.

We are very proud that the OGP has since grown to include a global coalition of 64 governments and hundreds of civil-society organizations to carry out open government principles.

As you know, OGP member countries develop and implement specific and measurable open-government initiatives through National Action Plans every two years.

The United States issued the first Open Government National Action Plan in September 2011.  It included 26 concrete and ambitious open-government initiatives and was well-received by stakeholders.  The Plan was developed through a process that involved extensive consultations with external stakeholders, including a broad range of civil society groups and members of the private sector, to gather ideas on open government.

While implementing our first National Action Plan was challenging, we completed 24 of those 26 commitments by December 2012.  Just one example is the “We the People” initiative.

“We the People”:  The White House announced the launch of the “We the People” petition platform to give Americans a direct line to voice their concerns to the Administration via online petitions.

In its first two years, more than 10 million users generated over 270,000 petitions on a diverse range of topics, including unlocking cell phone for use across provider networks, which led directly to policy action.

The United States released the second U.S. Open Government National Action Plan in December 2013, including 23 commitments that build on the progress made in the first plan as well as bold, new commitments to be achieved over the next two years.

While we have been at work on our new commitment for fewer than six months, I would like to share a few highlights of our efforts thus far.

  • The Global Initiative on Fiscal Transparency (GIFT):  The United States has joined GIFT, an international network of governments and non-government organizations aimed at enhancing financial transparency, accountability, and stakeholder engagement.
  • Open Data to the Public: New commitments will make government data even more accessible and useful for the public.
  • Participatory Budgeting:  Finally, the United States will promote community-led participatory budgeting as a tool for enabling citizens to play a role in identifying, discussing, and prioritizing local public spending projects, and for giving citizens a voice in how taxpayer dollars are spent in their communities.

I would like to wrap up my remarks by expressing how much the United States values civil society engagement.

President Obama, together with leaders from governments, civil society, and the private sector, hosted a meeting to call attention to the increasing pressure on civil society worldwide on the margins of UNGA in September 2013.

At that time he called on participants to work through exiting initiatives, such as the Open Government Partnership, to build the political capital and diplomatic architecture necessary to address the challenges facing civil society.

I was pleased to hear President Yudhoyono today express his support for a strong civil society.

Civil society’s active engagement in demanding government openness is highly valued by the United States.  Thank you.