A Presidential Priority: Unleashing Open Data

The next administration's task will be to solidify the gains that have already been made, shape a new vision for a data-driven democracy, and ensure that the leadership and resources are there to make that vision a reality.
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On January 20, 2017, the United States' 45th president will be sworn in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. While the candidates are campaigning across the country, their teams are already working behind the scenes to prepare for the next president's first day in office. Planning for the complex process of a presidential transition begins months before the election and involves working with both the current administration and outside stakeholders. Transition reports prepared by those stakeholders, which help set high-priority goals, are essential resources for the incoming administration to ensure a productive start.

The Center for Open Data Enterprise has received support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to publish a nonpartisan informational Open Data Transition Report, which will be made public in October. The report will draw on experts from business, the public sector, and civil society to provide an action plan for continuity and further improvements in open government data -- free government data released for public use. It will show how open data can fuel national initiatives in healthcare, medical research, energy, criminal justice reform, education, labor, veterans' benefits, and many other critical areas.

The current administration has placed a high priority on putting open government data to use. President Obama issued an executive order on open government his first day in office and established a national Open Data Policy in 2013. The White House and federal agencies have launched citizen-focused programs to help students find the best-value colleges, improve medical safety, and spur neighborhood development using open data. To support data-driven initiatives like these across government, the administration has launched the U.S. Digital Service, the 18F group, and the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, which help federal agencies build the technical infrastructure they need to maximize open data's potential.

The drive for better open data is coming both from the White House and from a truly bipartisan movement in Congress. The DATA Act, which mandates the release of more detailed and usable data on government spending, passed the House and Senate almost unanimously. Now the OPEN Government Data Act, which aims to open all kinds of federal data, has strong bipartisan support in both houses. Leaders on both sides of the aisle understand: Open government data will be critical to solving the tough challenges we face as a nation.

The momentum for opening more government data is encouraging and energizing, but it is not yet enough. Open data advocates in federal government still have to deal with inadequate legacy IT systems, poor-quality data, incompatible data formats, and a general lack of resources. Many consider open data an unfunded mandate: They lack the budget to turn their data into a valuable national resource, as federal policy now requires. As a result, the government's new open data programs are only a small sample of how open data could be applied, across the federal system and in all sectors of the economy, if it receives the right level of support.

The next president will have an unprecedented opportunity to lead a truly data-driven government, working with federal agencies and the U.S. Congress. By providing high-quality, usable data about everything from satellite observations to local neighborhood resources, the government can open new opportunities for scientific research, economic growth, and citizen engagement. The next administration's task will be to solidify the gains that have already been made, shape a new vision for a data-driven democracy, and ensure that the leadership and resources are there to make that vision a reality.

The Open Data Transition Report will be designed to help the next administration identify and pursue the most compelling open data opportunities. It will help support the federal government's commitment to open data, provide continuity to the next administration, and develop a wide range of programs to put open data to the best possible use.

As we work on this report, we are looking for high-impact, practical ideas for using open data to help government solve major public challenges. Please email katherine@odenterprise.org for more information on this project and to share your ideas. We look forward to hearing from you.

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