By making federal data available by default, the Open Government Data Act proposed by U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer would increase transparency and support innovation.
Rep. Derek Kilmer has proposed smart legislation to improve the federal government’s sharing of data.
The Gig Harbor congressman’s Open Government Data Act has bipartisan support and should be approved by Congress. Then it should be closely reviewed by lawmakers in states such as Washington who are searching for better ways to share public records in the digital age.
Over the last decade, a series of administrative moves put more federal data online. This inspired state and local governments to adopt similar “Data.gov” programs to share more of the data they produce.
House Bill 5051 would require that the federal government share its data assets by default, in a machine-readable format, with no charges for its use.
Agencies would be required to create publicly accessible “enterprise data inventories” that account for any data assets they create or maintain. Exceptions would be made for data with security risks, personal data and the like, echoing the list of exceptions in federal public-records law.
Digital advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation raised a good question about the discretion that agency directors would have to withhold particular data. Kilmer said that’s a legitimate concern that he’s considering.
Although this federal law may not translate directly to state agencies, county courthouses and city halls, the template and spirit of disclosure would. Government at all levels is looking for ways to improve the flow of public information that’s now largely digital.
Policies that share data by default would prompt changes in how files are created and handled, so they are ready for public disclosure from the get go. Once that’s done, the cost of responding to requests for this data would plummet.
Making such data available for free is reasonable since the public already pays for it and the agencies’ operating costs through taxes.
Streamlined sharing of government data increases transparency and creates opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovation.
Kilmer notes several ways that shared government data contributes to new technologies improving the everyday lives of Americans.
Weather apps that many check in the morning are fed by data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and traffic maps they check on the way home from work use data generated in real time by government agencies.
Who knows what else could be created if nearly all government data were routinely available? Let’s find out by passing the Open Government Data Act.