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Integrating open data, open source, cloud drives efficiency

Better integration of three of the federal government’s main strategies -- use of cloud, open source software (OSS) and open data – would collectively benefit their progress, a new report found.

“Integrating strategies around open government data, OSS, and cloud computing will help make government information more available to the American public, ensure that government decisions are driven by evidence, and increase the efficiency and lower the costs of government operations,” according to “Aligning Open Data, Open Source, and Hybrid Cloud Adoption in Government,” a report the IBM Center for The Business of Government released May 5 in collaboration with the Center for Open Data Enterprise.

The report looks at how government can build on four existing policies: the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy, Federal Data Strategy (FDS), Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act and Federal Source Code Policy. Though they use different methods to approach their goals, they face similar challenges, the report states.  The overlaps are especially clear in the areas of security, privacy, governance, workforce, procurement, use in decision-making, interagency collaboration, use of standards and public value.

In terms of security, for example, the Cloud Strategy requires adding security and privacy controls to the data layer, FDS requires agencies to protect data integrity through security best practices, the Evidence Act requires agencies to consider security and privacy, and the Source Code Policy asks agencies to consider those while choosing software, the report states.

Another way the three strategies work together is through the value OSS may provide as agencies move to the cloud. OSS “can give agencies flexibility as they choose between competing cloud providers, or manage between operating divisions that may contract with competing providers,” the report states. Additionally, the combination of OSS and open data brings benefits such as flexibility, enterprisewide efficiencies and better quality.

Cloud bridges all three strategies by enabling increased data sharing and supporting open data programs, but cost and agencies’ varying needs and requirements complicate its use. The pandemic may help agencies overcome some of these challenges, however, according to the report.

“The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) runs a Virtual Research Data Center (VRDC), which ‘provides timelier access to Medicare and Medicaid program data in a more efficient and cost effective manner’ than other alternatives,” the report states. “This approach could be implemented on a broader, cross-agency scale through a National Secure Data Service or similar body, as recommended by the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking.”

To overcome the challenges and maximize on the strategies’ integration, the report makes five high-level recommendations. The first is to maintain flexibility by avoiding one-size-fits-all approaches. The second is to share success stories among agencies, which have made different levels of progress in adopting cloud and OSS and opening data.

Third, the report recommends workforce development to recruit and train people with the skills to use cloud, OSS and open data. The final two recommendations are to leverage user-centricity and to learn from the adaptation to the pandemic, “particularly the acceleration of remote work and increased sharing of scientific information.”

Specific actions to support these recommendations include funding Evidence Act implementation and building on the Tested Ability to Leverage Exceptional National Talent Act, which made it easier for the General Services Administration to recruit skilled workers to one-year government stints through the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. Government should also facilitate use of cloud for research and policymaking and update the Federal Source Code Policy “by specifically prioritizing commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products built using OSS over products built with proprietary software.”

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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