White House issues policy guide for administrative data sharing

Detailed guidance spells out what agencies can do to overcome institutional barriers to using data through collaboration across programs and agencies.

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What: Office of Management and Budget's Guidance for Providing and Using Administrative Data for Statistical Purposes

Why: This OMB guidance gives agencies a roadmap for leveraging certain types of data to use in developing policy and improving program outcomes. The government collects all kinds of information as a natural function of program administration that can't be released to the public as open data for privacy reasons, or to protect trade secrets. However, such administrative data can be used by government under certain conditions. The move by OMB is of a piece with President Barack Obama's management agenda, which seeks to leverage government data to improve performance and efficiency.

In her covering memo, OMB Director Sylvia Burwell suggests a few examples where government might overlay and analyze disparate datasets, including comparing veterans' health and labor market data to design programs to find employment for disabled or injured vets, or using crime reports and data on crime-prevention policies with an eye to discovering what works and what doesn't.

The detailed guidance, mostly of interest to government officials and data-policy geeks, spells out how agencies should work to overcome institutional barriers to using such data through collaboration across programs and agencies, and the responsibilities of keepers and users of administrative data in making sure that privacy rules and data integrity principles are followed. It also tasks agencies with creating their own policies for making such data more visible and accessible to potential users.

OMB also provides agencies with a standardized agreement for agencies to use when sharing data, with provisions for data security, data quality and penalties for unauthorized disclosure. The absence of such a template for data sharing among agencies was lamented in a GAO report made public just two days before the OMB guidance was released.

Verbatim: "In particular, high-quality and reliable statistics provide the foundation for the research, evaluation, and analysis that help the Federal Government understand how public needs are changing, how well Federal policy and programs are addressing those needs, and where greater progress can be achieved."

NEXT STORY: Pro tips for using big data

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