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White House Officials: To Manage the Government, Open Its Data

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White House officials see standardizing federal data as a crucial step to making government more effective and efficient. Opening that data to the public could also spur economic growth, they said.

“Open data is not just a transparency exercise,” said acting Federal Chief Information Officer Margie Graves. “It really is integral to the management of government itself. Everybody recognizes that this is the platform on which we have to build our house.”

Graves highlighted the many ways standard data frameworks can streamline government processes and reduce wasteful spending Tuesday at a data transparency conference hosted by the Data Foundation. She joined White House Office of American Innovation Director of Strategic Initiatives Chris Liddell in reaffirming the Trump administration’s support for open data initiatives.

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“One of our greatest challenges is also our greatest opportunity,” said Liddell at the conference. “How to unleash the power of data to create a more efficient and effective government for all citizens.”

Both officials cited the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, or DATA Act, as a solid start to the long-term goal of making federal information more accessible. The 2014 legislation mandated that agencies organize spending data in a standard, machine-readable format. The Office of Management and Budget and Treasury Department led efforts to bring agencies onto the new standard and created a public-facing site that taxpayers can use to see where their dollars are going.

By making it possible to analyze spending across the whole government, the DATA Act allows officials to compare and contrast agency performance and find cost-effective improvements, according to Graves. She noted that many agencies have recognized the importance of open data standards and some have included such initiatives in their reform proposals.

A number of agencies also have begun adopting a new standardization initiative called Technology Business Management to help them better describe IT costs, Graves said. As chair of the committee charged with overseeing TBM’s implementation, she believes the new standard will clear the ambiguity around IT expenses and help agencies drill down on where improvements can be made.

Standardized information may also be key in bringing new technology to government. Consistent data “lays the foundation” for the adoption of technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence, Liddell said, enabling the public sector to keep up with private-sector trends.

But he believes the benefits can also go the other way. If the government make more data available and usable, private-sector groups can make better-informed decisions and develop new, innovative business models.

“What kind of unrealized value exists?” Liddell said.

Pending legislation may help groups realize some of that value sooner than later. A bill called the OPEN Government Data Act was added as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, must-pass legislation that will fund the military in fiscal 2018. The bill would require agencies to publish all their data in a machine-readable, standardized format. The NDAA passed the Senate last week but must go through a bicameral conference to negotiate the differences and additional votes before it becomes law.

By making as much data publicly available as possible, Graves believes the government will enabling organizations to innovate in ways they never thought possible, spurring economic growth.

“You don’t know which questions you’re trying to answer and how those dots are going to connect,” she said.

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