Fate of Chief Data Officers Relies on Which Data Transparency Bill Passes

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Andrew Harnik/AP

Two different versions of the OPEN Government Data Act are working their way through Congress.

Two versions of legislation that would require agencies to make their data more transparent are under consideration by Congress, but only one requires all agencies appoint chief data officers.

The Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary Government Data Act, originally sponsored in the House by Reps. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and in the Senate by Sens. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, directs agencies to make their data available to the public in a machine-readable format. It also requires them to keep detailed inventories of the data they collect.

That version of the OPEN Government Data Act passed the Senate in September as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

But Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced a new version of that bill Tuesday, as part of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act. And it’s moving quickly: The House Oversight committee passed the bill by voice vote Thursday.

The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act would create a system where federal agencies can use existing data to measure the performance of their programs. It also aims to implement some of the recommendations to federal agencies made by a White House advisory commission, which include appointing chief evaluation officers at each agency to measure the success of government programs. It also recommended creating a National Secure Data Service to protect citizens’ privacy throughout that evaluation process.

Ryan and Murray’s version of the OPEN Government Act directs agencies to name a career appointee to the position of chief data officer and to create a chief data officer council for those leaders.

They also differ in their approach to implementation, Hudson Hollister, founder and executive director of the Data Coalition, a transparency-focused advocacy group, told Nextgov. Ryan and Murray’s version attempts to amend Title 44 of the U.S. Code, which governs the public printing of documents. The bill would add language that directs the federal government to consider potential risks to citizens if personally identifiable information were exposed.

Since it involves an amendment to existing law, Ryan and Murray’s version would be “a good thing for implementation, because the agencies are already subject to those provisions,” Hollister said. “It’s better for the law to be as simple as possible.”

But substantively, the two bills have similar goals, and the Data Coalition has supported both, he explained.