WASHINGTON - The White House instructed every federal agency yesterday to publish before the end of January at least three collections of "high-value" government data on the Internet that have never previously been disclosed, an ambitious order to make the administration as transparent as President Obama had promised it would be.
It was not immediately clear what types of information the government would make newly available. It said the material must increase accountability, improve the public's understanding about the agency's mission, create economic opportunities, or be in high demand by the public.
Bill Allison, editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation, an open-government group, noted that whatever is disclosed would already exist on government computers in data form, not in collections of paper documents, because of the quick deadline the administration set for itself.
"Nobody is going to pull together thousands of pages and put them in a database within 45 days," he said.
The White House also ordered each federal agency to:
Create a Web page within 60 days describing its activities related to open government.
Distribute useful information without waiting for requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
Take steps to reduce backlogs of requests for records under the FOIA by 10 percent a year.
Consider how agencies can use contests and prizes to find new ways for employees to improve open government.
Open-government advocates praised the plan.
"We've been saying the agencies should be listening to what the public asks for," said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel to the National Security Archive, a private organization that seeks disclosure of government secrets.
All the new data collections will be added to the government's Web site, data.gov. It offers more than 1,000 sets of data, but some are merely archived lists of government news releases.
Others include lists of toxic chemical amounts released in each U.S. state and territory, tax-exempt groups, earthquakes, food or toy recalls, immigration data, Treasury bill rates, and more.