The White House says open data is something other agencies do

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Lies, damned lies, and statistics, goes the saying--and here's another one: data, open data, and transparency.

My reason for saying so stems from a recent look FierceGovernmentIT took at the White House visitor logs of Steven VanRoekel, the Office of Management and Budget administrator for e-government and information technology--aka the federal chief information officer.

That the White House decided in 2009 to post online its visitor logs was admirable; it was a harbinger of a push to make government data available to the public, the only part of an effort to make the federal government more transparent that appears to have any enthusiasm left in it. Unfortunately, the promise of transparency embedded behind posting of the logs hasn't been realized.

The visitor logs pertain very narrowly to the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, meaning that attendees in meetings that occur in executive office of the president properties such as the White House Conference Center go unrecorded. Because of our work using the Freedom of Information Act to find out the subjects of OMB TechStat meetings, we know that quite a lot of Federal CIO meetings occur in the conference center.

In fact, a General Services Administration official told me the number of meetings with VanRoekel captured by the White House logs is a fraction of the total.

Downloading the White House visitor logs, in other words, will give you a potentially nonrepresentative sample.

A few days after President Obama's first term has ended, it's become apparent the administration quickly stopped wishing to be the most open and transparent White House ever--and that when it talks about opening up government data, it excludes itself and the internal workings of federal agencies from that openness. What of that ilk is made available is mostly for show. This leads to an amusing situation where federal officials regularly tout open data in the full knowledge that when they say openness, openness is something that other people do. - Dave