September 20, 2017

U.S. Open Data Push Advances

George Leopold

Maksim Kabakou/Shutterstock

The push for open government data got a boost this week with passage of a budget bill that includes language codifying open data requirements for the federal government.

Senate passage of the Defense Department spending authorization package included an amendment incorporating the text of the Open, Permanent, Electronic, and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act. If, as expected, the DoD budget bill becomes law, the open data amendment provides a legal mandate for the government to adopt open data practices. How that requirement would be met remains unclear.

The open data legislation was first proposed two years ago as part of a bipartisan response to the rise of big data. The amendment to the DoD budget bill was introduced earlier this year. Chief sponsors included Senators Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Representatives Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) and Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.).

“The bipartisan OPEN Government Data Act is the exact kind of guarantee needed to secure the benefits of open data,” the Washington-based Center For Data Innovation declared in a statement released Tuesday (Sept. 19).

The industry group noted that current U.S. open data policy “is built on executive actions that are simply operating procedures for the executive branch and not law, meaning that federal agencies have no legal responsibility to publish open data.

“The lack of legally defined open data requirements has created uncertainty about the extent to which the federal government will remain committed to and responsible for opening its data to the public or refining and improving open-data efforts over time,” the group asserted.

The House version of the defense-spending bill does not include the open data provision. Hence, a House-Senate conference must still reconcile the two versions of budget legislation before sending it to the president. However, the industry group notes the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has indicated support for the open data provisions.

“Given the apolitical nature of open data and its bipartisan support,” the industry group predicted, “there is every reason to believe that the open data requirements in [military spending bill] will soon become law.”

The federal government remains one of the largest sources of data on everything from labor statistics to weather forecasts. Much of it is already available for free, but the open data legislation advanced this week seeks to mandate the release of federal data. Responding to calls to make government data more accessible, the Obama administration launched Data.gov as a clearinghouse for about 200,000 data sets.

OMB sponsored a roundtable on open data in July during which budget officials reportedly told open data advocates the Trump administration backs open data as part of its government IT modernization efforts. Administration officials also backed federal adoption of blockchain distributed ledger technology, according to reports.

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