BY Susan M. Brazas for Lawyers.com
The internet offers a new way for the President to communicate with millions of people around the world in a way unknown just a couple of years ago. The Obama team was admired for its use of technology during the 2008 presidential campaign. His administration has continued this open-door policy.
Policy Statements Can Be Viewed Online
Issued on January 21, 2009, President Obama's statement on his open government policy is available on the White House web site. The basic points in the policy are that government should be:
- Transparent –the public can view the decision making process
- Participatory –the public has participated in the decision making process, and
- Collaborative –everyone involved works together for a common goal
The policy also directed the Chief Technology Officer to recommend ways to teach executive departments and agencies to put these principles into practice.
The Open Government Directive was published in December 2009. Since then, each of the Cabinet Departments began shifting toward more open communication. You can find the written description of specific initiatives, organized by purpose and Department, here.
Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook are well-known for their use by the public, and the White House is sending official information through them now, too. The White House web site provides even more information here, here, and here. By posting so much information on the internet, a more open feel than ever before has been created.
The Presidential SAVE Award
Another way President Obama is creating a more open government is to ask for ideas from government employees. In 2009, the White House sponsored the Presidential SAVE Award. Federal employees submitted ideas for ways to save money. More than 84,000 ideas were submitted. Nancy Fitchner of Colorado submitted the winning idea.
Her idea was for veterans discharged from veteran's hospitals to take home the medications given in the hospital. Currently, all of these medications are thrown away as the person leaves.
Ms. Fitchner presented her idea to the President in December 2009. The White House hopes many of the submitted ideas will be used to save money and improve the system.
The other top entries of the Presidential SAVE Award are on the White House program page.
More Access to Legislative Intent
Easy access to government information may change how lawyers and courts interpret federal laws and constitutional rights. Currently, only precedents from previous court decisions can be considered.
Judges will also look at lawmakers' intent if it can't be found just by reading the law itself. This more open communication by the White House may provide lawyers with another tool for determining the purpose behind laws.
Lawyers might also need this when:
Thinking about filing suit against a federal office or agency
Arguing for a particular interpretation of a law for a client during informal negotiations or administrative hearings
With more access to official information comes more opportunity for you to be more informed and involved in the government, which is for and by the people.
Questions for Your Attorney
Can I submit an idea for the Presidential SAVE Award?
Is the White House bound by statements on its web site?