Data has the potential to limit excess in government costs and resources, while also providing businesses and citizens tools to innovate, so long as its available, accessible and organized. The passing of a recent bill is about to make government data a lot more useful.
It is no secret that the United States government collects a massive amount of data between each of the federal agencies. On the surface, it’s easy to conclude that data is pretty useful. For example, weather data and traffic data collected by federal agencies help app developers get the information they need to build GPS and weather tools to make the best of your commute.
The problem with government data, however, has been the lack of accessibility and organization that is required for the 21st Century. Without a clear inventory of a federal agency’s data, researchers and policymakers are left unable to determine what type of information an agency has for potential use. Some agencies are still publishing documents physically, all but guaranteeing that information won’t see the light of day.
The OPEN Gov. Data Act
The recent passing of the Evidence-Based Policymaking Act will provide that with unprecedented strides in open government information, thanks to the inclusion of Title II, otherwise known as the OPEN Government Data Act.
The OPEN Government Data Act, or Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary Government Data Act, was signed into law on January 14 by President Donald Trump and serves as a vital component to the larger evidence-based policy act championed by former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).
The OPEN Government Data law requires the Federal Government to make data available to the public in a non-proprietary machine-readable format, and in conjunction with the Evidence-Based Policymaking act, will provide a new and improved culture of creating evidence-based, data-driven policy in Congress.
This means that all Federal agencies are now required to publish their data online and make it accessible to users. Anyone will have completely free access to government data, and failure to do so would make an individual agency open to legal challenge. The law also provides a framework for data inventories, so not only is information freely available but it is also easy to figure out what information government agencies is providing.
Evidence-Based Decision Making
The Center for Data Innovation recently held an event featuring the sponsor of the OPEN Government Data Act, at which Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), as well as five panelists, were tasked with discussing next steps for open data given the passing of the bill.
“When taken together, the entirety of the Evidence Act offers potential for a sea of change in government for using data more productively to inform decision-making,” Nick Hart, an event panelist and Director of the Evidence Project for the Bipartisan Policy Center, told The Globe Post.
“The OPEN Government Data Act offers several features that will contribute to changing government’s evidence culture for the better.”
Hart also spoke at the event regarding the great enthusiasm members of the evidence, research, and evaluation communities have expressed regarding the entire Evidence-Based Policymaking act’s potential to bolster and substantiate information that policymakers will have going forward.
Individuals from these industries will, for the first time, have a massive user-friendly toolbox of data at their disposable. Researchers will have the opportunity to explore all kinds of information that can be used to better inform thought and decisions surrounding major topics like healthcare, the economy or education.
More Useful, More Used
The Act also establishes that agency data inventories ought to be robust and user-friendly, which is not currently the case when you visit data.gov. A major provision included in the Act is the requirement that every agency must include in their inventory any data asset that would otherwise be subject to a FOIA request, meaning it will be far easier to identify what data an agency has collected but not currently made public.
The law also requires all government agencies to establish a Chief Data Officer (CDO). This person assumes the previously nonspecific responsibility of managing government data and ensuring the agency is complying with the newly signed law. CDOs will also participate in a Chief Data Council wherein these individuals come together to exchange best practices and strategies in data management.
“The establishment of chief data officers will ensure federal agencies now have someone who’s daily job is to think about how we make data useful when we collect data,” Hart said. “ When combined with the evaluation officers created under Title 1 of the Evidence Act, these new leadership positions offer potential to develop a workforce and the agency capacity to make data more useful and, therefore, more used to address important policy issues.”
The 7 Principles of Open Data
Foundations for the OPEN Govt. Data Act began in 2013, when former President Barack Obama signed an executive order attempting to make open and machine readable data the new default for government information.
Christian Hoehner, Policy Director at the Data Coalition spoke to the 2013 executive order at the event, saying that it was the first time open data principles were included in policy, and that the recently passed bill serves the purpose of codifying much of the order’s policies.
Seven principles guide the refining of open data, and are identified by Hoehner: Data should be complete, data should be timely, data should be accessible to the widest range of users, data should be machine-readable, data should be non-discriminatory, data should be non-proprietary and data should be license free. These have served both the Obama and Trump Administrations in their data governance.
Previously, responsibilities for adhering to the executive order’s policies were retroactively fitted to agency’s Chief Information Officers. Panelist and Director of Policy for BSA | Software Alliance, Christian Tronosco, pointed toward this retrofitting as being a significant factor in the lack of efficiency and quality in the current data management environment, making the establishment of the CDO a major victory for open data.
The Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, and the OPEN Data Act are a long-awaited step forward across a variety of fields, according to Kilmer, who went on to give a variety of examples of its usefulness whether it be school data to ensure kids are learning necessary skills for the 21st century economy, Veterans Administration data for keeping better tabs on wait times and access to VA care, or highway data for local goverments to study traffic and gridlock and find out which infrastructure investments could make the greatest difference.
“The bill passed because people across the increasingly wide political spectrum know that making government data more accessible is a good idea.” Kilmer (D-WA) said at the event, “The OPEN Government Data Act gives the data the government collects to the people who paid for it.”
More on the Subject
Facebook, the world’s largest social network, faces a growing backlash over privacy and data protection, with revelations this week about sharing data with business partners adding to pressure.
Here is a summary of the main issues in the Facebook controversy: