Feds Start Open Data Initiative


Barack Obama and the US Office of Management and Budget establish new policies to encourage access to government data.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing new standards and rules for open access to US government data. Along with this historic order, the Office of Management and Budget announced a new Open Data policy, spelling out changes in the government's approach for how data is acquired and stored.

The US government was once a model for how not to manage data. Private companies were often awarded contracts for massive government studies that would result in mounds of data acquired at taxpayer expense. But the tools for extracting and analyzing the data were proprietary and often maintained by the company itself; and anyone who wanted access would have to pay a large service charge. Few standards existed, which compounded the labor cost for anyone who needed to extract the data for academic, personal, or entrepreneurial reasons.

Software developers and open source advocates have long maintained that the archaic way the government manages data is a throwback to the 1960s IBM era. Experts have called for simpler, more open portals for accessing the data and standard, freely available tools for extracting and analyzing the information. Open data advocates had high hopes for Barak Obama when he first took office, but progress on open data initiatives slowed in Obama's first term. This executive order, and the surrounding policy changes, should regain some momentum. Highlights of the new policy include:

  • New services for data.gov, the central site for US government data, with improved virtualization and mapping tools, as well as expanded APIs for extracting data.
  • Standard tools for searching, retrieving, and analyzing government data, which will be released and distributed through GitHub.
  • A mandate for increased emphasis on openness and data reuse within the US government at the agency or department level.
  • Outreach to innovators and entrepreneurs to facilitate effective use of government data.

In the Open Data Policy memorandum M-13-13, Office of Management and Budget director Sylvia M. Burwell writes, "Managing government information as an asset will increase operational efficiencies, reduce costs, improve services, support mission needs, safeguard personal information, and increase public access to valuable government information."


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