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What's New in Civic Tech: White House Removes Open Data Info, Internet Archive Offers to Host PACER Data

Plus, Kansas City, Mo., and Fargo, N.D., both make significant strides in open data and civic tech.

What's New in Civic Tech takes a look at highlights and recent happenings in the world of civic technology.

White House Removes Open Data Info

The White House has removed all of the information that was previously available through its open data portal, posting a message that encourages visitors to “check back soon for new data.”

The old data, however, is still available through President Obama’s archive page, albeit in a format where some of the links are not functioning properly. On Thursday, Feb. 16, Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, took to Twitter to address the matter.


The sudden removal of #opendata from the @WhiteHouse website & silence about new disclosures leaves a vacuum for fears to fill. #opengov — Alex Howard (@digiphile) February 16, 2017

The move has left questions over the Trump administration’s commitment to open data, as well as the future of digital government at the federal level. Trump has not yet appointed a federal chief information officer or chief technology officer. He has, however, appointed a chief digital officer, tapping Gerrit Lansing, who previously served in the same capacity with the Republican National Committee. 

For his part, Lansing has previously soothed concern over the Trump administration’s commitment to digital government, tweeting his support for both the United States Digital Service and 18F, a pair of government tech initiatives that, like the open data portal, were launched under Obama.  

Internet Archive Offers to Host PACER Data

The Internet Archive has offered to host all of the data from the government’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, doing so in a statement submitted for the record on Tuesday, Feb. 14 to the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet of the Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives.

Presently, the PACER system provides access to U.S. appellate, district and bankruptcy court documents for $.10 per page. In a release announcing the offer, the Internet Archive said its hosting of the data would “make the works of our federal courts more readily available to inform the citizenry and to further the effective and fair administration of justice. Our courts must function in the light of day, and in this day and age that means on the Internet. The Internet Archive is happy to try to help.”

PACER started in 1988, accessible then only by terminals in libraries and some office buildings. In 2001, it was made available over the Internet. Thomas Bruce, a professor with the Legal Information Institute and Cornell Law School, about the need to both make PACER’s data available online for free and to modernize the system. 

“Pacer became outmoded two years after it was built, and in some ways has never caught up,” Bruce said.

The offer was extended by Brewster Kahle, digital librarian and founder of the Internet Archive, who said his group has the technology to make this happen with little effort; it simply needs governmental cooperation.

Kansas City, Mo., Shares Smart City Data

Kansas City has shared its Smart City data with 18 other cities, two countries and five federal agencies, hoping to spread lessons it has learned about using data to improve local government performance.

These lessons have been learned over the past nine months, the time in which Kansas City’s Smart City initiative has been active. As part of this, the city has implemented many actions, the most tangible of which is free public Wi-Fi across 50 blocks in its downtown and 125 interactive kiosks. This initiative, which is the result of a public-private partnership valued at $15 million, also brought Kansas City smart sensors that collect data with the potential to help the city better function. That data can be viewed by the public via a map that shows available parking, traffic flow, pedestrian hot spots and locations of KC Streetcars. 

"The Smart City sensors and digital tools are cool, but understanding how to use these tools — and the data that they generate — bridges the gap between cool and smart," said Kansas City Mayor Sly James in a statement.

Kansas City’s publishing of this data came as the city hosted a national workshop with Think Big Partners and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce.  

Fargo, N.D., Picked for ‘What Works Cities’ Initiative

Fargo, N.D.'s use of data is getting a big boost from Bloomberg Philanthropies, which has selected the city to be part of its What Works Cities initiative. 

Fargo officials say they hope this will allow the city to improve open data practices, making information about local government more accessible to the community. They also hope to better engage residents about government priorities and services. 

“In Fargo, we nip issues in the bud before they become bigger problems,” said Mayor Tim Mahoney in a statement. “There is an expectation that the services we deliver will continuously be revised and improved over time. This is actually a hallmark of what makes Fargo an excellent community. It means we focus on process — including recognition of processes that no longer work and data that is problematic — rather than short-term results. WWC will help us in that effort.”

The What Works Cities initiative was started in 2015, and now works with 63 mid-sized cities to help accomplish the same goals Fargo is aiming to tackle. The participating cities are spread throughout 35 states, with more than 20 million residents and combined annual budgets that exceed $67 billion. The initiative hopes to partner with as many as 100 cities on a rolling basis through 2018.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.