The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its Open Government Plan, formalizing plans to integrate openness, transparency, participation and collaboration into the Department's every day operations.

When Abraham Lincoln founded USDA in 1862, he referred to and labeled it as "The People's Department." It is a description that is as true today as it was then. The Department touches the lives of Americans every day, in every way. The Department's core values of accountability, customer focus and professionalism are critical to the success of being more fostering greater participation, being more transparent and collaborative.

"We owe the American people an open and transparent government but to make the government as effective as possible in completing the people's business, we need our citizens to participate and collaborate with us. This is an unprecedented effort to open the government and work with the people it serves," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "At USDA, we used a ground-up approach seeking guidance from our employees and the public as to how to best achieve the Open Gov goals."

To efficiently meet the Open Gov requirements, USDA established a unique governance structure comprised of three levels of leadership and direction that came together to form working groups, an Advisory Council, and Steering Committee. Representatives from every level of USDA including IT partners, data owners, public affairs and senior leaders.

The plan formalizes goals, opportunities and outcomes for each of the open government principles. Additionally, the plan includes initiatives across the Department to illustrate how we are breaking down barriers between government and the public leading to a more efficient and effective government.

• Transparency: Each of the Department's goals provides a different aspect of transparency to the public, and as a whole, the goals move USDA towards doing its work in an open and transparent manner. Providing greater accessibility to data and current information gives the public a better understanding of USDA as an organization. Greater transparency also provides the public with the tools and information it needs to provide the Department with valuable feedback and suggestions.

• Participation: Through public participation, the Department becomes more aware of what issues most interest the American public. As a part of open government, the Department will increase opportunities for the public to contribute ideas and expertise in shaping the policies and services USDA provides.

• Collaboration: Effective collaboration enables us to harness the innovative ideas and know-how of the private and public sectors. The Department will improve upon existing partnerships and establish new sustainable collaborative ones that will foster an enhanced shared understanding of our mission.

USDA identified two flagship initiatives that embody the principles of open government and serve as the best examples of embracing transparency, participation, and collaboration.

The USDA Forest Service planning rule process advances the President's principles of transparency, participation and collaboration to establish a culture of open government whereby the Forest Service will engage stakeholders in a new and dynamic way while bridging the geographic gap of Americans who enjoy and rely upon 193 million acres of National Forest Lands.

The plan is a dynamic document and will be updated regularly to reflect the current needs and priorities of the Department and the public. To review the plan or share comments, questions or ideas, visit the USDA Open Website at http://www.usda.gov/open.