White House Open Data Policy: Promoting Openness and Interoperability

The U.S. Federal Government, state and local governments, and governments around the world possess treasure troves of valuable data that have gone largely untapped for many years.  More than ever before, citizens want access to government data, and they want it applied in innovative ways to which they are increasingly becoming accustomed.

Government’s acceptance and utilization of new technologies is needed to enhance government’s mission.  Technologies that leverage data analytics to provide innovative functions and services hold the key for governments to provide improved services and to better understand how well they are fulfilling their missions.

Today, the White House issued an Executive Order Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information” and an OMB Memorandum (M-13-13) updating the Digital Government Strategy, originally published last May.  The updated policy seeks to further enhance the government’s open data initiative, making machine readable data the default for government data, while helping to establish a framework for effective information management at each stage of the information’s lifecycle to promote openness and interoperability.

Specifically, this Memorandum requires agencies to collect or create information in a way that supports downstream information processing and dissemination activities. This includes using machine readable and open formats, data standards, and common core and extensible metadata for all new information creation and collection efforts.  It also includes agencies ensuring information stewardship through the use of open licenses and review of information for privacy, confidentiality, security, or other restrictions to release. Additionally, it involves agencies building or modernizing information systems in a way that maximizes interoperability and information accessibility, maintains internal and external data asset inventories, enhances information safeguards, and clarifies information management responsibilities.

Beyond open data, governments need to embrace policies that enable a streamlined approach to innovative applications that draw from and analyze this data.  This emphasis on data analytics leads to data driven innovation (DDI) allowing governments to use data to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government, as well as preventing waste, fraud and abuse.  Embracing open data, as the White House has done through the issuance of this policy, maximizes the full potential of DDI for governments to embrace open data policies, use public-private partnerships to provide access to critical public data, and to adopt enterprise architectures that enables sharing.  These steps will put public sector data to innovative uses that can reap the economic and societal benefits of DDI.

We applaud the efforts of the Administration that led to this policy and encourage the White House to continue to embrace open data policies, while also embracing policies that increase the use of data analytics—pulling data from myriad sources—to make strategic decisions, to encourage research and development around data science, and encourage teaching and training for data scientists and professionals with strong data analytics skills that are already in high demand in both the public and private sectors.

Michael Hettinger is VP for the Public Sector Innovation Group (PSIG) at SIIA. Follow his PSIG tweets at @SIIAPSIG. Sign up for the Public Sector Innovation Roundup email newsletter for weekly updates.

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