Open Data

New bill makes the public owners of government data

Shutterstock image. Copyright: wavebreakmedia

A bill unveiled April 14 would codify and extend President Barack Obama's push for open government data.

The Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act would push agencies to abandon proprietary data formats and justify a failure to publish data publicly rather than the other way around.

"This is the public's data," Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) said at an event sponsored by the Data Coalition and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation's Center for Data Innovation. "It's been bought and paid for with our tax dollars, and we need to find an efficient way to get it out."

The House bill's sponsors include Farenthold and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.). A Senate companion bill is slated to be sponsored by Sens. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

The law codifies the intent behind Obama's 2013 executive order that required agencies to promulgate data in open, machine-readable formats.

Advocates say the bill is a major win for transparency.

"This is officially where we can say the United States is full steam ahead on open data," said Josh New, a policy analyst at the Center for Data Innovation.

Kat Duffy, director of the Sunlight Foundation's Sunlight Labs, echoed Farenthold when she said the bill contained "magic language"-- a nod to the specification that the American people, not agencies or federal employees, own the data the government generates.

Duffy said she is sympathetic to the intelligence community's concerns that too much openness could expose sensitive information. But such concerns should be addressed rather than used as a reason not to default to openness, she added.

She also noted that the bill has plenty of room for improvement. Its definition of "machine-readable," for instance, could be construed as accepting PDFs, from which it can be labor intensive to extract data.

Duffy also cited the potential for agencies' enterprisewide data inventories to be published publicly, which she hopes will be incorporated during congressional markups of the bill.

Schatz said the OPEN Government Data Act is aimed at bringing new government data to light, but it will also take government data that is "theoretically" available to the public and make it "meaningfully" available.

"It's our data," Schatz said. "And it has to be in a usable format."

Featured

  • Cybersecurity

    DHS floats 'collective defense' model for cybersecurity

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wants her department to have a more direct role in defending the private sector and critical infrastructure entities from cyberthreats.

  • Defense
    Defense Secretary James Mattis testifies at an April 12 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

    Mattis: Cloud deal not tailored for Amazon

    On Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to quell "rumors" that the Pentagon's planned single-award cloud acquisition was designed with Amazon Web Services in mind.

  • Census
    shutterstock image

    2020 Census to include citizenship question

    The Department of Commerce is breaking with recent practice and restoring a question about respondent citizenship last used in 1950, despite being urged not to by former Census directors and outside experts.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.