Senate moves to make more federal data machine readable

Senate moves to make more federal data machine readable

In a show of support for open data and data standardization, the Senate last week passed the Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act.

The bill, introduced by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) would require all federal agencies to make their open data machine-readable using standardized, nonproprietary formats.

The House did not act on the legislation, so it has no chance of becoming law this year.  Advocates, however, say the Senate’s unanimous passage sends a strong signal to the next Congress that the bill can move quickly through both chambers upon reintroduction in January.

The bill would build on the success of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, which helped to standardize the reporting of federal spending data, Data Coalition Executive Director Hudson Hollister said in a statement. The Open Government Data Act would apply to all government data assets made available by federal agencies and would require those agencies to:

  • Publish their data assets in machine-readable formats and make them open by default.
  • Create and maintain an enterprise data inventory that accounts for data assets created, collected or maintained by the agency.
  • Maintain a single public online portal dedicated to sharing open government data with the public.
  • Empower agency CIOs to improve the quality of the data they are publishing.

Not all agencies will be required to publish their data.  “For privacy, security, confidentiality, or regulatory reasons, agencies may maintain a nonpublic portion of their inventories,” the bill reads. The Government Accountability Office, the Federal Election Commission and “certain other government entities” would be excluded from the bill’s requirements.

But in general, Schatz said, “public information belongs to the public, and it’s the government’s job to make sure that data is available and easily accessible in today’s ever-changing digital world.”

Hollister, who spoke with GCN about data standardization earlier this year, said it is an important priority for ensuring that government open data can live up to its expectations.

“The need to create consistent data standards and apply them -- that’s the main reason why all of the utopian benefits of open data haven’t happened yet," Hollister said,  "and the reason why, I think, across the entire government we’re just starting to reap the benefits.”

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a reporter/producer at GCN.

Before joining GCN, Leonard worked as a local reporter for The Smithfield Times in southeastern Virginia. In his time there he wrote about town council meetings, local crime and what to do if a beaver dam floods your back yard. Over the last few years, he has spent time at The Commonwealth Times, The Denver Post and WTVR-CBS 6. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received the faculty award for print and online journalism.

Leonard can be contacted at mleonard@gcn.com or follow him on Twitter @Matt_Lnrd.

Click here for previous articles by Leonard.


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