How Policy Could Advance Open Data in Government

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Data.gov's Program Manager Hyon Kim says the OPEN Government Data Act could boost participation.

Citizens could soon get access to more federal data if new legislation is passed, a General Services Administration official said Wednesday.

The Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary Government Data Act, or the OPEN Government Data Act, directs federal agencies to share their nonsensitive data sets in a machine-readable format, and it could prompt more to submit their information to Data.gov, the catalog of data sets maintained by GSA Program Manager Hyon Kim.

The bill, recently introduced in both the House and the Senate, would codify Barack Obama's 2013 executive order mandating agencies make their data machine readable. It's "basically saying there has to be a Data.gov, and that agencies have to maintain it," Kim said at an event Wednesday hosted by Johns Hopkins University.

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“That certainly would be a good change for us,” she said, and it would likely "be a boost to us in the program and also for the agencies that are continuing to work on the data."

Kim's team is trying to make it easier for agencies to comply with open data policy—especially when resources for data projects are limited—by checking if any data upload requirements are repetitive or burdensome, she said. GSA is also working with the Treasury Department to ensure agencies submit their spending data to USASpending.gov, as required by the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, passed in 2014.

Data.gov indexes data sets from about 166 agencies, sub-agencies, and state and local sources. It covers tens of thousands of data sets, about 9,000 of which have Application Programming Interfaces to help users integrate the data into their own products.

A separate policy directs agencies to make federally funded research available, but GSA hasn't yet formally connected that information to Data.gov. Repositories for federally funded research has evolved "in an almost separate path because a lot of that data isn't on government sites," Kim said.

It’s not clear whether the Trump administration prioritizes open data projects, nor how much funding it plans to set aside for agencies to comply. In the face of potential budget cuts to data projects, Kim said, GSA can look for opportunities to share services with other agencies, for instance, "if by virtue of running Data.gov we run into something where GSA could provide a solution."

She noted Data.gov doesn't actually maintain copies of the data sets—it's simply a catalog—so if agencies find they don't have the resources to maintain certain databases, they'll simply disappear from the GSA site. Her team has talked to groups outside government who want to archive federal data sets in case they quietly disappear, but “we’re certainly not the drivers of that."

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