The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) yesterday released its Open Government Plan, a document indicating plans to integrate openness, transparency, participation, and collaboration into the Department’s day-to-day operations.

The move is a response to President Obama’s Transparency and Open Government Memorandum, which was issued January 21, 2009, instructing the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to provide guidance to all federal departments and agencies on implementing the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration. The OMB responded by issuing the Open Government Directive, requiring federal agencies to develop an Open Government Plan to act as a roadmap for incorporating transparency, participation, and collaboration into its core mission.

The USDA Open Government Plan reflects the input of senior policy, legal, and technology leadership in the agency, as well as input from those outside these leadership positions, including federal employees, agency stakeholders, and the general public.

Specifically, it establishes a unique governance structure comprised of three levels of leadership and direction: working groups, an Advisory Council, and a Steering Committee. These three components are expected to work in unison to ensure transparency, participation, and collaboration. 

Transparency, according to USDA, will be achieved by providing greater accessibility to data and current information to give the public a better understanding of the USDA as an organization. Collaboration will be pursued by improving upon existing partnerships and establishing new sustainable ones that will foster an enhanced shared understanding of the core mission.

To address participation, USDA has opened a website, called Open Government, that allows the public to share ideas, discuss them with each other, and vote for or express disagreement with the new ideas. As a result, the most popular ideas “rise to the top” for closer review by the agency, ultimately enabling the government to better understand and respond to the public.

“We owe the American people an open and transparent government but to make the government as effective as possible in completing the people’s business, we need our citizens to participate and collaborate with us. This is an unprecedented effort to open the government and work with the people it serves,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “At USDA, we used a ground-up approach, seeking guidance from our employees and the public as to how to best achieve the Open Government goals.”

You can download the entire USDA Open Government Plan here.