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Action Plan Aims to Help Trump Administration Keep Open Data Front and Center

Wide ranging as the action plan's recommendations may be, they all share a common foundation: to use data to drive concrete, practical change.

Leaders at the Center for Open Data Enterprise have three words for President-elect Donald Trump: Data, data, data.

In a newly published Action Plan for the Next Administration (PDF), the year-old advocacy group lays out 27 recommendations for the new president. The highly detailed agenda addresses projects that can be undertaken in the first 100 days of administration, as well as initiatives that could roll out in the first year.

It’s a sweeping program, addressing data in four key areas:

  1. Enhancing the government open data ecosystem
  2. Delivering direct benefits to citizens and communities
  3. Sharing scientific research data to spur innovation and scientific discovery
  4. Helping businesses and entrepreneurs use government data as a resource
Open data has had a good run under the present administration. In 2013, President Obama launched a historic Open Data Policy, declaring that information “is a valuable national asset whose value is multiplied when it is made easily accessible to the public.”

The goal of the new set of recommendations (crafted in advance of the election — Hillary Clinton would have gotten the same thing) is to keep up the momentum, to ensure data remains front and center as a policy driver and an enabler of government.

“Our hope is that the Trump administration will see the value of open data as a public resource,” said Joel Gurin, president and founder of the Center for Open Data Enterprise. “We hope that this transition report will lead to some real practical outcomes that help to move things forward.”

While many of the agenda items call for White House leadership, a range of federal agencies are called out as potential key players, including the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, among others.

“Several of these things could be done at the agency level," said Katherine Garcia, director of communications for the center. "We hope there will be implementation across the boards.”

The center’s recommendations span a wide range of possible activities, some of which are narrowly focused while others take a broader approach.

The very first action item calls for the appointment of a chief data officer in every federal agency. As of August 2016, only eight of 24 agencies had a lead data official in place, the center reports.

“There needs to be somebody there who has real responsibility and resources,” Gurin said. “Data is intrinsically important to every agency’s function, so you need someone in each agency who has the ability to lead those efforts in an expert way.”

In the first 100 days, the new administration should also conduct a national data review to “identify high-value opportunities for federal investments in tribal, city, and state data infrastructure.”

“This could emerge as an important high-priority item in the Trump administration because Trump and his team are talking a lot about infrastructure investment,” Gurin said. “If you are going to build a lot of bridges and roads and so on, you have to make decisions about that in a data-driven way. There are local, city and state-based data sets that become critical if you are talking about a massive infrastructure investment.”

Other recommendations offer a more sweeping mandate, for instance by encouraging the next administration to “ensure government data is born digital.” In practical terms, this means encouraging efforts to produce government information in readily usable formats.

“Let’s not have data in PDFs and then put it in digital," Garcia said. "Let’s have a policy of doing it in digital first. It improves the accuracy of the data and it makes it a lot easier to do data release.”

In addition to these government-centric recommendations, the center also offers a range of suggestions aimed at improving the data aspects of citizen services.

The USDA, for example, could create a National Hunger Heat Map in the first 100 days, using data to help meet a critical need.

“You have locations with a food surplus, restaurants and groceries, and then you have food banks that need food," Garcia said. "So it is really about matching the resources to the need."

Other agencies could address workforce issues. For example, the center suggests the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Institute of Standards and Technology join forces to update the government’s public data on occupations and required skills.

Much data already exists that could help jobseekers and employers. “Now we need to start making it much more usable for trainers and jobseekers," Gurin said. "The new administration could accelerate those existing efforts and have a very direct benefit on employment."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services could open up data on drug treatment facilities, to help combat opioid addiction.

“What are the right kinds of metrics? What is the information that would be most useful? The government needs to set those standards, to develop those metrics and build a way for patients and their families to use that information,” Gurin said. “This kind of information does not really exist right now in a way that is easily accessible.”

Other recommendations look to leverage existing government investments to spur economic growth. The National Science Foundation, for instance, could provide information to increase awareness of federally funded research, while the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office could make it easier for businesses to find and access the tens of thousands of royalty-free patents held by the U.S. government.

Wide ranging as they may be, these recommendations all share a common foundation, in so far as they all aim to use data to drive concrete, practical change.

“This is about promoting the use of open data in government,” Gurin said. “It is not about open data for its own sake. Data by itself does nothing. It’s all about how it is used and how it is applied. Every one of these recommendations has an end goal that is beyond just the release of data.”