Senate Passes OPEN Government Act

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The bill would require agencies to make data available in a machine-readable format.

The Senate has passed legislation that would require agencies to make more data available to the public in a machine-readable format.

The Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary Government Data Act, or the OPEN Government Act, mandates federal agencies, when "not otherwise prohibited by law," make data available in a way that does not "impede use or reuse." It must also be free to the public, "with no restrictions on copying, publication, distribution, transmittal, citing, or adaptation."

That news comes shortly after various watchdog groups concluded agencies might miss the deadline in implementing another transparency-themed effort: the 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency Act. That act requires major federal agencies to publish their spending data online, also in a format easily accessible to the public.

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The deadline for implementation is May 2017, and some agencies risk missing the deadline because of software upgrades and other technical barriers, according to the Government Accountability Office.

A report from the Congressional Budget Office suggests the OPEN Government Act would codify existing White House policy, including a 2013 executive order that aimed to make government data machine-readable by default. CBO concluded that implementing the act "would have no significant effect on spending because agencies effectively are already working to implement the requirements of the bill."

The OPEN Government Act also tasks the Office of Management and Budget with ensuring an "enterprise data inventory" is complete and publicly available; agencies would use that inventory to store "any data assets that they create, collect, control, or maintain."

Individual agencies would need to select representatives who could respond to the public's concerns about open data requirements. The act would also require the General Services Administration to create a portal "dedicated to sharing open government data with the public."