Open Gov

Executive order makes open data the new normal

open eye and data

Under an executive order, civilian agencies must produce data in open, machine-readable form to promote public access and commercial use. (Stock image)

President Obama issued an executive order May 9 to require civilian agencies to produce data in open, machine-readable form to promote public access and commercial use. The presidential order and an accompanying implementation memo from the Office of Management and Budget puts teeth behind a policy launched almost one year ago with the release of the administration's Digital Government strategy, which touted open data as a potential engine of economic growth.

The order is a long time coming: The original digital strategy memo promised that open data standards would be released in November of 2012.

"One of the things we're doing to fuel more private sector innovation and discovery is to make vast amounts of America's data open and easy to access for the first time in history. And talented entrepreneurs are doing some pretty amazing things with it," said President Obama in a statement. "Starting today, we're making even more government data available online, which will help launch even more new startups. And we're making it easier for people to find the data and use it, so that entrepreneurs can build products and services we haven't even imagined yet."

Agencies are required to create and collect information with an eye to its release in machine-readable format -- in spreadsheet form at least, if not in XML, JSON or other programmer-friendly formats. The order and supporting documents also reiterate and clarify the principles of open data: Making it public, accessible, clearly described, reusable, complete, timely and "managed post-release." That last point specifies that "a point of contact must be designated to assist with data use and to respond to complaints about adherence to these open data requirements."

The open data framework applies even for information the government doesn't intend to make public. "Whether or not particular information can be made public, agencies can apply this framework to all information resources to promote efficiency and produce value," the OMB memo states.

Agencies have a few concrete deliverables under the plan. The most forward facing of these is the creation of a data page at each agency that lists publicly available government datasets. The OMB memo mandates a common architecture across agencies, with data showcased on a page reachable by adding "/data" to the agency URL. A quick scan shows that few agencies have built such data pages; notable exceptions include the Census Bureau and the Federal Communication Commission.

The OMB memo also directs agency heads to ensure that chief information officers are "positioned with the responsibility and authority implement the requirements" of the open data policy. The memo is signed by CIO Steven VanRoekel, CTO Todd Park, new OMB Director Sylvia M. Burwell and Dominic J. Mancini, the acting administrator for OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Mon, May 13, 2013

Nice choice of formats when SAS is the standard in both government and industry.

Fri, May 10, 2013

Let's make sure it is in a machine readable format so Americas's rivals and enemies can use it against us as easily as possible. The idea that they have to hack their way into the Federal Govt sites to obtain the data is truly a hassle for them. They still have to do that for corporate businesses, but it looks like this administration will open that can up for them also.

Fri, May 10, 2013 Owen Ambur Hilton Head Island, SC

The executive order and supporting policy memo are now available in open, standard, machine-readable StratML format at &

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