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About That 120 Day Deadline

Internal e-mail raises doubts on Obama’s Open Government Directive
March 4, 2009

There’s been a spate of attention paid this week to the Chief Technology Officer, a yet-to-be-filled federal position that Barack Obama promised to create during his presidential campaign. And there’s new indication that the CTO’s first task won’t be completed by the president’s announced deadline.

On Monday, The Washington Post called attention to this missing member of the administration, and, on Tuesday, Mother Jones found that some of those who advocated for the job’s creation are growing concerned that the position remains unfilled.

While the job’s mission remains vague, many in the transparency and technology community hoped that a CTO could lead government into a new age of online disclosure, making data government more accessible to citizens.

But the CTO has been charged with one specific task: the day after his inauguration, President Obama signed a memo tasking the CTO to work with the heads of the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration to develop an Open Government Directive. And the delayed appointment could potentially complicate the efforts to produce the directive within the 120-day timeline the president set out on January 21. (The clock is at forty-two days and counting.)

Yesterday, Wired‘s Nicholas Thompson surveyed the situation, and offered some scuttlebutt on the fate of the Directive:

This is supposed to be the master document that lays out all the ways that federal government can use transparency to improve democracy. The CTO is supposed to lead one of the three teams drafting this thing. If he or she’s not in place, are we going to get this opus?

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The answer I’m hearing is yes: people at OMB (namely Vivek Kundra), the General Services Administration, and possibly OSTP (namely Beth Noveck) are picking up the slack. So we will get something. Maybe it won’t be in 120 days, but it won’t be long afterwards. Give me a great document in 150 days, and I’ll be thrilled.

Besides Thompson’s hint, there is at least one now-public sign that the 120 day deadline is no longer operative. Chris Dorobek, the managing editor of who keeps a valuable blog on federal information policy, posted an e-mail on Monday inviting federal employees to give input on the Directive’s topics at a government-only wiki run by the Office of Management and Budget. As the e-mail puts it, this “series of on-line conversations” will take place “[o]ver the next 100 days” and “will shape the President’s Open Government Directive”. That email, Dorobek told CJR, was sent on February 24, suggesting that employee input won’t wrap up until June 4. Obama’s original 120-day timeline would have had the directive completed by May 21—more than two weeks earlier.

The Office of Management and Budget, after repeated requests for comment, sent CJR a copy of Obama’s original memorandum, and declined to address the timing questions raised by the e-mail.

Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.