White House Releases Open Data Policy

In an important move toward an open government, President Obama orders agencies to make their data available to the public in open, machine-readable formats.
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President Obama on Thursday signed an executive order requiring that from now on, all data generated by the government must be made available to the public in open, machine-readable formats. The Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy also released an Open Data Policy to ensure that federal agencies manage government information as an asset.

The Open Data Policy is designed to make previously unavailable government data accessible to entrepreneurs, researchers and the public. In return, the data may be used to create new products and services and to build businesses. Speaking during a press conference, federal chief information officer Steven VanRoekel cited Global Positioning System (GPS) and weather data powering new innovations, such as navigation systems, when it was released to the public.

"We sit on a treasure trove of data in the government that's been locked up in paper and proprietary systems. As [agencies] modernize their systems they will make this data machine-readable. They will do this while protecting privacy, confidentiality and security," said VanRoekel.

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The move is the latest development in the open government initiative, which began during Obama's first term in office. In 2009, the Obama administration released its Open Government Directive, a document outlining steps that federal agencies must take to become more transparent, participatory and collaborative. In 2011, the White House entered another phase of the open government strategy by launching the Open Government Partnership, a 46-nation effort to improve government transparency. That effort included specific commitments made by the White House to transparency in the open government National Action Plan.

The newly released executive order and the Open Data Policy require agencies to create an internal index of their data, make a public list of their public data and list all data that can be made public. Within 30 days of the policy's issuance, agencies will get access to an open online repository of tools and best practices to assist them in integrating the policy into their operations. Federal chief technology officer Todd Park and CIO VanRoekel will be responsible for regularly updating the online repository so that agencies continue adoption of open data practices, according to the executive order.

Within 90 days of issuance, measures will be identified and implemented to integrate the Open Data Policy requirements into federal acquisition and grant-making processes. A Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) goal to track implementation of the Open Data Policy will also be established during that timeframe. Within 180 days, agencies will report progress on the implementation of the CAP Goal and will continue to do so on a quarterly basis.

Kevin Richards, senior vice president of Federal Government Affairs at industry group TechAmerica said the Open Data Policy will fuel innovation while also helping the federal government tackle challenges without having to grow its workforce. "By making open data the default policy of the entire federal government instead of discretionary, President Obama has handed the U.S. technology industry a key to expand our global leadership in this era of Big Data," Richards said in a written statement. "This [policy] will facilitate innovation, job growth and government efficiency. It is a win for federal agencies and a win for the general public."

The White House announced additional actions related to the government's open data effort., a central hub for open government data, will launch new services -- including improved visualization and mapping tools -- and application programming interface (API) access for developers. Also, as part of Project Open Data, Park and VanRoekel will release free open source tools on Github, a website for developers. The project aims to provide plug-and-play tools and best practices to agencies working with open data.

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