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Washington D.C. Launches Open Data Policy, FOIA Portal

The district also reveals plans to hire its first chief data officer to direct transparency efforts.

On Monday, July 21, Washington, D.C., unveiled two major plans for it’s open data strategy, the first being the launch of a new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) processing system, and the second are its plans to hire a chief data officer to oversee an open data policy and portal.

Mayor Vincent Gray made the announcements simultaneously through, his official Web page, and via Twitter later in the day.   

According to the city release, the “DC Government Public FOIA Portal,” the official moniker for the system, allows claims for public records to be submitted and received in one centralized hub for 50 city agencies, and will include plans for additional agencies to be added later. Requestors can track the status of submissions, read recent FOIA released documents, and staff can monitor how timely FOIA requests are answered.

Current regulations require staff to respond to each request within a minimum of 15 business days.

The portal's vendor, FOIAXpress, was credited by the city for its “effective use” by federal agencies such as the General Services Administration and the departments of Justice and Homeland Security. The city also cited the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability’s Office of Open Government as a consultant for the purchase.

Chief Data Officer & Open Data Policy

Equally notable, if not more so, is the city’s plans to adopt an open data policy that calls for the hire of a chief data officer and construction of a citywide open data portal.

The portal is scheduled to launch within 30 days, and the order requires agencies to publish data sets on a regular basis that fall into 15 different categories on such topics as budgetary information, city correspondence, employee salary records, administrative procedures and commonly requested FOIA documents. Linked with the information release, the open data policy requires department data to be published in an open format -- meaning it can be easily downloaded, searched and retrieved by common Web applications.

While an exact date hasn’t been set to hire a chief data officer, who will collaborate with departments on the transparency initiatives, it’s likely a hire may be announced soon as plans already are underway for agencies to report on open data efforts by Oct. 1.

“The executive order I am issuing today sends an important message to District government agencies and the public: Everyone wins when we make it easier for the public to understand the workings of the District government,” Gray said, adding that he's eager to see how civic developers use open data for city apps.

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.