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Obama directs agencies to make more data public

May. 9, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  

Agencies are under more pressure to release government data to the public and ensure it is packaged in formats that promote widespread use and dissemination.

On Thursday, President Obama directed agencies to make their data easy to find and use by the public, “wherever possible and legally permissible.”

“We sit on a treasure trove of data in the government,” but today it’s locked up in proprietary systems, federal chief information officer Steven VanRoekel told reporters Thursday.

Under a new open data policy issued by the Office of Management and Budget, agencies must meet goals for improving how they gather, manage and share their data. Agencies will be required to maintain an updated inventory of their data sets, provide a public listing of all public data, and ensure data are created and stored in machine-readable and open formats, whether collected electronically, by phone or on paper. Agencies must also use metadata to describe the origin of data, any related data, data quality and other relevant details, according to the policy. All systems must be built on open standards to facilitate data sharing.

By August, OMB will push agencies to integrate the new requirements into the government’s procurement and grant operations. “Such efforts may include developing sample requirements language, grant and contract language, and workforce tools for agency acquisition, grant, and information management and technology professionals,” according to Obama’s executive order on the new initiative.

OMB will press agencies to create performance goals and metrics for carrying out the new policy. Agencies will report on their progress in November.

The Data Transparency Coalition, which promotes federal data reform, and the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan open government group, praised the new policy and executive order.

“The value of open data goes far beyond public transparency,” said Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition. “Spending and programs will become more efficient because big data analytics, the most effective means of identifying waste and fraud, can be deployed once data standards are imposed.”

The Obama administration has already released to the public vast amounts of data on public safety, health and medicine, education and energy, VanRoekel said. The success of start-up companies like Zillow and Trulia, which provide online real estate services, is based on government data, VanRoekel said. Government data could enhance activities like home purchasing by providing homebuyers with neighborhood crime statistics, energy usage data and broadband capabilities in the area, he said.

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