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April 27, 2016 at 5:00 am ET
OPEN Government Data Act
Like a lot of folks these days, you probably take a look at an app on your smartphone before you leave the house to see if you need to grab an umbrella or change into short sleeves. What you might not know is the weather data powering that app comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA).
That’s just one small example of how taking the data the government collects and opening it up to the public can unleash the power of innovation. In the 21st century, we want to make sure the United States remains the center of groundbreaking discoveries and data is increasingly a key to make that happen.
Think about how it’s already changing our daily lives. You can use your phone to check on when the next bus is coming or how bad traffic is on the highway right now. By giving researchers, government agencies, and the private sector access to new data from across the federal government, we could see big breakthroughs that have even more profound impacts and fuel the growth of entire new industries. Plus, we can help people, create jobs, and even save taxpayers money.
In 2014, our nation was shocked to learn that men and women who served our country faced long wait times and scheduling manipulations at the VA. It is clear that more needs to be done to prevent fraud and abuse that pervades the system. Harnessing the power of open data while protecting personal records would make it easier to make the VA scheduling system more efficient and reduce appointment wait times.
Opening up government data in a safe way can let Americans better understand how our agencies work and can empower the public to hold those agencies accountable.
Better use of government data can also help the public be stronger consumers. The Department of Education’s College Scorecard is a great example. This tool allows anyone to compare schools, see which institutions provide the best bang for their buck and calculate potential financial aid.
Embracing open data also gives the government a chance to save taxpayers money. We have seen instances where government agencies are collecting the same information. With better coordination, we can ensure the right data is going the right places to reduce duplication and curb waste in government.
So how we do get there? Working with a large coalition of good government, private and public sector organizations, as well as federal officials, we have sought to expand on the Open Data Policy for the federal government.
The result is a bill we have introduced to require that public data be accessible. Using an enterprise data inventory, hosted on Data.gov, individuals, organizations and other government offices would be able to find existing information from a variety of agencies.
The bill, the OPEN Government Data Act, would require the data included in the inventory – by default – be available in an open format and easily searchable. This is the best way to turn it into a tool that is actually accessible so we can save money, ensure accountability and help entrepreneurs think up new ideas.
Our legislation seeks to empower and encourage positive change from heads of agencies to individual employees. It encourages chief information officers to adopt open data practices and requires agencies to conduct reviews to make sure everything that should be shared is shared.
The bill establishes a safe and reasonable process for agencies to determine what data should be made available to the public while ensuring protected data related to individuals, national security or businesses remains under lock and key. It is careful to maintain existing protections to ensure transparency and safety.
The OPEN Government Data Act is a bipartisan and bicameral bill that we are introducing to empower government to be more effective, the private sector to innovate, and citizens to participate. We think that’s a plan our colleagues can get behind.
Congressman Blake Farenthold represents the 27th District of Texas.U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer represents Washington’s 6th Congressional District. U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz represents the state of Hawaii.