Cass Sunstein, the Obama administration’s “regulatory czar,” gave a speech at the Brookings Institution this afternoon. Regular readers are probably familiar with most of its content — the open government directive, OMB’s dashboards for transparency and IT projects. But Sunstein made a couple of interesting points on the limits of open government initiatives.
Sunstein acknowledged that there might be a problem of selection bias with open government programs — that, when agencies solicit feedback from the public, they’re only hearing from a small subset of the general public; and that the people responding to their queries might not have useful suggestions.
He held up the SAVE Awards as an example of a program that successfully sought a range of public input, and then asked a smaller group to vet that input.
It may be that you hear things that don’t capture what Americans mostly think. In terms of one domain of dispersed knowledge… think of the SAVE Award. The notion wasn’t that you just ask the majority of people what they think ought to save. You ask a ton of people — and then you check out [their suggestions]with people who have their own independent expertise, to find out which one is really good.
Sunstein also said OMB has struggled to craft useful metrics for measuring open government programs: How do you measure if they’re really working?
We’re eventually going to work with the public to see if they’re getting any information that they’re benefitting from… there’s a working group [at OMB]that’s already working with the public on what data sets are important to see. Metrics are difficult, but there are qualitiative measures: Is there data getting out there that’s going to help markets work better? To let people know if products pose risks?
Sunstein said surprisingly little about regulatory reform — his chief area of responsibility as the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.