United States Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker United States Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker © 2014 Esri

The U.S. Department of Commerce will hire its first chief data officer, joining a growing number of states and localities that have created data officer positions.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker announced the plan Monday, during a speech at the Esri User Conference in San Diego. The new data officer will be tasked with shaping the department's platform for data sets and lead open data initiatives designed to make the information available to innovators.

The data officer will work with private-sector data experts to implement initiatives to produce more data and offer it in ways that provide sophisticated analytics, Pritzker told the audience of geographic information specialists. Pritzker didn't say when the chief data officer position would be filled. 
 
"We must build a common platform that ensures greater technical capacity to liberate our data, an ability to combine data in ways that make them more valuable," she said. "We aspire to develop new suites of data products created to meet the needs of businesses, innovators, governments and others." 
 
The data officer announcement was the highlight of a rapid-fire succession of data initiatives announced by the Commerce Department during the first formal day of the annual Esri conference. Other announcements included: 
  • The department's International Trade Administration has launched a website containing trade and investment data for developers to create finance- and business-driven applications;
  • The creation of a data advisory council composed of private-sector members to advise the Commerce Department on how to use government data;
  • The department's plan to host an American Community Survey panel on Wednesday in San Diego to discuss how participants can put Census Bureau Survey data to best use; and
  • Release of an a RFI to unlock more weather data on top of the plethora of weather data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is a division of the Commerce Department. NOAA's weather data currently supports the Weather Channel and AccuWeather.
Pritzker talked up the importance of data as a pervasive presence that shapes various aspects of life, but often is taken for granted.
 
"We know data can inform business decisions and be seeds of economic growth, yet for many Americans and families around the world, data is a somewhat distant concept. Many do not necessarily recognize its importance to their daily lives," she said. "But we know that data is more than obscure numbers on a page. Good data, deployed effectively, can save lives."
 
She noted that hundreds of Washington, Ill., residents were able to reach shelter from an F4 tornado in November 2013 thanks to speedy alerts from the National Weather Service that appeared on their phones. The alerts are powered by internal data sets and technology from the federal government.
 
Pritzker pointed to the U.S. Cluster Mapping Registry as another example of effective data use. State and local governments and businesses mine the website's data on regional population clusters for information that helps them make better decisions. The technology armed the government in Dalton, Ga., with the knowledge to make strategic decisions about local economic development, for example.
 
A Commerce Department report, released Monday, touted the economic benefits of releasing government data. Firms that harvest government data and combine it with other government and private sector data create between $24 billion and $221 billion in annual revenue through job creation, product development and better decision-making.
 
Data, Pritzker said, can yield many positive results, including a stronger economy and better health outcomes. 
 
"Unleashing the full force of our data will be a source of innovation, a cornerstone of economic opportunity for businesses and entrepreneurs, and a foundation for greater prosperity for millions of families," she said.
Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  |  GT Staff Writer

By day, Hilton Collins is a staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines who covers sustainability, cybersecurity and disaster management issues. By night, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic, and if he had to choose between comic books, movies, TV shows and novels, he’d have a brain aneurysm. He can be reached at hcollins@govtech.com and on @hiltoncollins on Twitter.