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White House Unveils Open Data Action Plan

The Obama Administration has released next steps to implement the president's open data by default executive order.

by / May 16, 2014
Todd Park is the United States Chief Technology Officer and serves as an assistant to the president to implement data initiatives such as the administration's open data by default executive order. Wikipedia

On May 9, the White House released plans to fulfill an executive order that asks federal agencies to make their data open and machine readable. Labeled the U.S. Open Data Action Plan, the document identifies four open data commitments, future projects and the release dates of federal data sets published on the U.S. open data portal

The plan’s unveiling coincided with the anniversary of President Barrack Obama’s initial open data order issued in 2013. It also reflects the president’s collaboration on the G7 international Open Data Charter instituted to roadmap data transparency initiatives across governments.

“We’re making even more government data available online, which will help launch even more new startups.  And we’re making it easier for people to find the data and use it, so that entrepreneurs can build products and services we haven’t even imagined yet,” Obama said last year after issuing the order.      

Within its commitments, the action plan lists the following objectives:

  1. To publish open data in a discoverable, machine-readable, useful way.
  2. To work with the public and civil society organizations to prioritize open data sets for release.
  3. To support innovators and improve open data based on feedback.
  4. To continue to release and enhance high-priority data sets.

The last commitment, to release high-priority data, is arguably the commitment with the most teeth as it outlines specific open data projects and data sets — the concrete results generated from the verbiage.

The projects mentioned in the commitment are part of the administration’s Presidential Innovation Fellows program led by U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, a program that will last about 6 to 12 months as the fellowship’s entrepreneurs, developers, designers and innovators work to support federal data initiatives and projects (see below for a complete list of projects).

Despite the plan’s advance of select open data initiatives, it is still unclear how readily the executive order’s open data by default standards will be implemented by federal agencies en masse. Government transparency advocates, such as the Sunlight Foundation, have in the past voiced concern about the lack of force within the president’s executive order to compel agencies to release all non-classified data online.

As an example, no punitive measures are listed for disobeying the order, and implementation is “subject to the availability of appropriations,” or in other words, dependent on money.

In spite of this, the action plan is the next step toward a gradual open data usage at the federal level, and it complements the President’s May 9 signage of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, a law that will strictly require all federal agency expenditures to be published online by May 9, 2017.

Below is a listing of federal open data projects for the 2014 Presidential Innovation Fellows program listed in the action plan. Each project will be led by a Presidential Innovation Fellow:

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working to make its vast weather, climate and Earth observation data holdings more easily available and usable in the cloud to unleash the full potential of these resources, spur economic growth and help entrepreneurs launch businesses.
  • The Census Bureau collects and produces a wealth of geospatial, demographic and economic data resources, and is seeking to make its maps and geospatial information more easy to access and use.
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is working to make its Earth observation data open and machine-readable, and is expanding its climate data to be easily findable, machine-readable and usable by innovators developing new climate-resilience and climate-preparedness tools.
  • The U.S. Department of the Interior is working to make a wide variety of newly catalogued government data easy for entrepreneurs and innovators to discover and use, including data about tourism and recreation opportunities on the nation’s public lands and waters.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor, in support of the President’s Skills and Training Data Initiative and Safety Data Initiative, is working to make its skills and safety information data resources more open, machine-readable, and useful for third parties and innovators.
  • The Internal Revenue Service is introducing many new digital services for taxpayers, including making it easier to securely access their own tax account, make mobile payments, check their refund status or conduct other transactions. The agency continues to work with its many third-party stakeholders to deliver better services in support of tax administration.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Department of Defense and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, is leading the public-private Blue Button Initiative to expand consumer access to electronic health information. Blue Button empowers consumers with secure access to their own health-care information — such as medical records, prescription information, medical claims and lab data — so they can choose to share it with health-care providers, caregivers and others they trust.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy is working to accelerate the commercialization of National Laboratory-generated technologies, in part by making information about those technologies easier to find and use.

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