Openness & Government: a guest post by Shane Deichman

In the spirit of engaging and informing the American public and government transparency, Shane Deichman of Wizard of Oz and deep thinker on S&T sent along this post on Openness & Government. Be sure to check out his posts on the June 2008 DHS S&T Conference.

Guest post by Shane Deichman, Wizards of Oz:

"One of the major opportunities for enhancing the effectiveness of our national scientific and technical effort and the efficiency of Government management of research and development lies in the improvement of our ability to communicate information about current research efforts and the results of past efforts."

- President John F. Kennedy's opening statement in the "Weinberg Report" (10-January-1963, emphasis added)

In the early 1960s, President Kennedy charged his Science Advisory Committee (chaired by Dr. Jerome Wiesner, Special Assistant to the President on Science and Technology) to charter a panel to review federal information management policies and practices. The "Panel on Science Information" was chaired by Dr. Alvin M. Weinberg, Director of Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL). ORNL is the site of the world's first operational nuclear reactor (the Graphite Reactor, where the "pile" from the University of Chicago was moved during World War II to validate the "breeder reactor" concept) and a key national laboratory.

According to ORNL: The First 50 Years (chapter 5), the Laboratory's role as a storehouse of scientific information is traced to Dr. Weinberg's panel and its attempt to address the "information explosion" of the time. The panel's report, "Science, Government, and Information: The Responsibilities of the Technical Community and the Government in the Transfer of Information" (informally known as "The Weinberg Report"), provided the impetus for the formation of a number of scientific information centers, including roughly a dozen at ORNL.

Matt Armstrong has used this 'blog as a bully pulpit to educate us all on Public Law 402, United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, aka the "Smith-Mundt Act". In particular, the Act's principles were listed by the House committee that recommended H.R. 3342, the resolution that became the Smith-Mundt Act:

  • Tell the truth.
  • Explain the motives of the United States.
  • Bolster morale and extend hope.
  • Give a true and convincing picture of American life, methods and ideals.
  • Combat misrepresentation and distortion.
  • Aggressively interpret and support American foreign policy.

President Kennedy's vision was consistent with these principles, and a key question asked by Dr. Weinberg's panel was "How should Government agencies deal with information, other than its own reports, that is relevant to its mission?" In "Part 4: SUGGESTIONS: THE GOVERNMENT AGENCIES", the Weinberg Report says:

1. "The Federal Government ... must maintain an effective internal communication system; and it must see that an effective overall communication system is maintained", and ...

2. "Since information is part of research, Government must assume responsibilities even toward those parts of the non-Government system that do not overlap with its own, simply because Government has assumed such heavy responsibilities toward research."

NASA and the Atomic Energy Commission were acknowledged by Dr. Weinberg as excelling in this area, interpreting their responsibilities quite broadly, and being proactive in providing full-fledged information services (not just a "document repository") for enabling access to information. The AEC's culture of openly sharing information is still evident today in the Department of Energy's "Office of Scientific and Technical Information" (OSTI) in Oak Ridge - the nation's central repository of scientific information stored in easily searchable databases (including Science.gov, ScienceAccelerator.gov and WorldWideScience.org). [BTW: OSTI is located on the first street in the nation named after a website, "Science.Gov Way", in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.]

At the other extreme, the Department of Defense was singled out in the Weinberg Report for having an information agency (Armed Services Technical Information Agency [ASTIA], predecessor of today's Defense Technical Information Center [DTIC]) that only handled internal reports and internal information retrieval requests.

Dr. Weinberg's panel concluded that the growth of science and technology requires the help of all technical people, not just information specialists, and the help of all Government agencies with investments in science and technology. While the Weinberg Report has no explicit references to Smith-Mundt, the spirit and intent of the Act are evident: all those involved in R&D were implored to become "information-minded" and to devote more of their resources to information dissemination - wise words that Matt has echoed on MountainRunner.

Shane is also the blogger increasingly pictured drinking with fellow bloggers.