President Barack Obama has inaugurated a plan in an address to the UN to persuade emerging and established democracies to make their governments more transparent by getting citizens involved and using new technologies to make information available.  The manner in which the plan was revealed, however, raised questions about how transparent Obama’s own administration is.

Details of the Open Government Partnership were given to reporters the day before the speech in a background briefing by two unnamed US officials who asked to be referred to as High-Level Government Official Number One and High-Level Government Official Number Two.

This resulted in some awkward exchanges between the two such as “And I would ask High-Level Government Number Two to add to what I said,” and the other responding, “Thank you, Senior Administration Official One.”

When asked by reporters about the apparent contradiction between the theory and practice of transparency in government, the two anonymous officials said that the briefing was on background because it was “a preview of President Obama’s remarks which were on the record."  The President, however, did not go into detail; that was left to his anonymous officials.

The manner in which the Open Government Partnership was unveiled may have had the unfortunate consequence of drawing attention away from its actual content. Under the joint chairmanship of the US and Brazil, a steering committee of eight ‘like-minded’ democracies drew up the plan (including the UK, Norway, Mexico, the Philippines, Indonesia and South Africa) in close collaboration with nine civil society organizations.

The goal is to address issues of transparency and accountability in government and to follow up on whatever commitments are made. These "national action plans" of the eight countries will be made available on a new website which will shed light on operations such as how public funds are spent.

In his speech at the UN, President Obama said the US was putting its commitment into practice by pursuing new protections for whistleblowers, creating a new way for citizens to petition the White House online, and joining a global initiative in which oil, gas and mining companies disclose more information about how much they're paying to extract natural resources.

As the two anonymous government officials pointed out, “this Open Government Partnership grows directly out of President Obama’s own leadership domestically on open government.”