Unlocking government data is no easy feat, and according to recent survey data gathered by the Government Business Council, the chief obstacles to a more open government are familiar problems in the IT world.
The survey tallied responses from 75 civilian and military IT leaders (GS-14 or higher), and respondents identified concerns over data sensitivity (68 percent), a perceived lack of funding (62.5 percent), privacy (61.1 percent), and unstandardized data (59.7 percent) as the chief challenges to more open data in government.
GBC conducted the survey in part to ascertain how the government would act to Congress’ passing of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, which mandates the executive branch publish U.S. federal spending in open, standardized datasets readily available to the public. The DATA Act gives agencies more incentive to push appropriate data into the public eye, and it was preceded by a May 2013 executive order that spurred agency efforts to lay the groundwork for making open, machine-readable datasets the default in government.
The GBC survey suggests agencies may have made strides on some of the steps outlined on the Open Government Dashboard, and less on others one would think should have come first.
For example, 40 percent of respondents said their agencies or departments have redacted personally identifiable information, and 36 percent reported identifying high-value datasets for public dissemination. However, fewer respondents (25 percent) said their agency was devising an open data strategy consistent with Open Government Directive criteria.
The argument could be made that it makes more sense to put strategy ahead of security. By crafting an open data framework that addresses privacy concerns, as well as integral efforts such as building application programming interfaces – which only 20 percent of respondent agencies had done – instead of tackling security on its own, agencies could device an all-encompassing approach to open data.
There is also a discrepancy between the government’s progress as it is displayed on the dashboard – the color green promulgates it, signifying agencies’ plans to meet expectations – and how survey respondents themselves reported agency advances.
Regardless, respondents reported significant benefits within their agencies from the data they have released. Sixty-one percent of respondents saw a “greater awareness of department data’ and ‘greater data standardization,’” and 59 percent reported experiencing “enhanced interagency information sharing.”
The survey will be discussed in an editorial viewcast June 12 with Dr. Taha Kass-Hout, chief health informatics officer for the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of the Chief Health Informatics Officer. For more information or to sign up for the viewcast, visit the registration page.