Ambassador Thorne Remarks at Forum PA 2012
Rome, May 16, 2012
Prime Minister Monti, Minister Profumo, ladies and gentlemen, I am glad to have this opportunity to address you on an issue of huge importance to the United States - strengthening democracy around the world through the ideals and tools of open government.
Democratic governance is based on the trust of the people, who need to believe that their representatives are governing honestly. As a sign of how important this issue is, on his first full day in office President Obama signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. He affirmed that, "We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government." The internet and new technologies give us tools that make greater openness possible and affordable in ways it never was before, and the U.S. government has turned this idea into action not only on a federal and local government level, but also internationally. In September 2011 we launched the Open Government Partnership together with 43 countries, including Italy. This initiative is designed to encourage governments to promote transparency, empower citizens and fight corruption. I know that Italy is a leader in Open Government initiatives, and I applaud Italy's plans and successes in modernizing and enhancing public services.
The key to Open Government ideals is to bring together the government and the governed, and allow for more agile communication and collaboration between them. The surge in digital technologies has been instrumental in allowing that to happen, in empowering the citizenry and the government to communicate more directly than ever. Over the past few years in the United States we have created an unprecedented level of openness in government. In fact just last month, all our federal agencies released their Agency Open Government Plans 2.0 which are roadmaps that explain how the different parts of government are working to expand citizen participation and input into decision-making and make data more available and transparent.
On the local level, several cities in the United States are doing really interesting things. In Chicago they have committed to "open data," essentially publishing all the city data online, to increase transparency and make urban life better for citizens. The Smart Chicago Collaborative invests in infrastructure, programs and applications that make internet resources more accessible, useful and beneficial to low-income communities. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has created a site called MetroPulseChicago.org, which helps make data on everything from air quality to unemployment to infant mortality visual so it can be more easily understood by the public and lead to better planning.
Innovative accountability tools- such as scorecards and barometers - are vital for holding a government to its commitments and measuring progress. In the U.S. one of the most popular recent initiatives is the Citizen's Tax Receipt. You enter a few numbers: your income taxes, your social security taxes, and it tells you exactly what percentage goes to which national expense - from national defense, to education, to welfare, to veterans' benefits. This gives each of us insight into how and where our tax dollars are being spent. Citizens deserve access to information to where public resources are going in plain, accessible language. We also have a tradition of releasing Presidential candidates' tax returns, as you may have heard about in the news recently, another important step to creating trust in political leaders.
Secretary Clinton is a leader in taking the Open Government philosophy global. In April the Open Government Partnership summit in Brasilia was attended by 55 governments, representing over 1.9 billion people, where countries made pledges to increase transparency and accountability in areas which all governments confront: improving public services, increasing public integrity, effectively managing public resources, creating safer communities, and increasing corporate accountability.
In Brasilia, Secretary Clinton said, "countries that attempt to monopolize economic activity or make it difficult for individuals to open their own businesses, will find it increasingly hard to prosper. And those societies that believe they can be closed to change, to ideas, cultures, and beliefs that are different from theirs, will find quickly that in our internet world they will be left behind." The United States has committed to 26 initiatives that will improve openness on the use of public funds, increase public participation, and streamline the delivery of services. The key is communication technologies and practical initiatives that connect people and government.
Technology, the internet and the management and use of "big data" underlie the majority of these initiatives and have opened up new possibilities. "Big data" is the huge amounts of information and data that are created by governments and businesses, and that is difficult to analyze and manage. Today we can release and use huge amounts of government data, put budgets online, or create e-petitions where citizens can raise their concerns and issues. It is not enough to just release all public data, we need to find ways to use it effectively. I have seen many examples of projects that can create economic and social value, engage citizens, and crowd-source solutions from the public. Developing ways to analyze, use and explain "big data" can help demonstrate not only what governments are doing for citizens, but also how Italy benefits from and contributes to EU policies. In addition to increasing transparency which builds trust between people and governments, technology also increases efficiency and fights corruption. Websites like www.ipaidabribe.com give ordinary citizens and local government officials tools to fight the types of petty bribery and corruption which cost countries' economies millions of dollars.
In the U.S. we have also launched Data.gov, an Open Data platform for citizens, developers and government agencies. In Italy you have Dati.gov.it and as regions use it to publish their data they are also encouraging citizens to engage through contests like the Open Data Challenge and Apps4Italy. When it comes to how technology can help governments and the public, creativity is the only limit.
I am glad to hear that Steve Kessler, President of GovLoop, will be speaking today. The role of the private sector is key, and businesses have taken the lead in many countries. In Mexico the state oil company now publishes its contracts online to fight corruption and build trust with consumers. Not only can the private sector teach government a lot, frankly there are business opportunities in helping governments improve efficiency and effectiveness. At the same time the reduction and simplification of administrative and bureaucratic burdens on businesses will spur growth.
Open Government needs leaders' commitment to legislation and initiatives that support transparency, citizen participation, and accountability. I am glad that Italy is a strong member of the Open Government Partnership and has taken great steps within their reform process by adopting measures that simplify and open up government to increase efficiency. Regional and local governments are also using the internet to connect people and find creative tools and solutions. Driving it all is technology, a key to the success of these initiatives, both in Italy and in America. As we continue down this path of using technology to strengthen and streamline our democracies I can guarantee that Italy and the United States - nations with open governments, open economies and open societies - will be more prosperous, healthier and more secure - and models for many other countries.