Interior, USDA unveil hackathon following criticisms of Rec.gov

Organizers hope the hackathon will improve access to data on federal lands, including Arches National Park in Utah. (Diana Robinson/Flickr)

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The Interior and Agriculture departments announced plans to host a hackathon next month following criticisms of a solicitation the federal government was preparing for public lands booking site Recreation.gov.

Federal officials hope that developers who attend the myAmerica Developer Summit will unlock information on the federal government’s public waters and lands, and make it more accessible to travelers. Tim Fullerton, Interior’s director of new media, told FedScoop that while the federal government may not be a wiz at developing apps, it has a huge amount of data.

“The idea here is that we are opening that up,” Fullerton said. “One of the most exciting things about this is we don’t know all the exciting ways this data can be used.”

The departments also announced that they had released an application programming interface, or API, that lets the public request planning and booking-related recreation data. The API “is able to effectively provide all [Recreation Information Database] data in fully machine-readable and filtered data feeds or downloads,” according to a release.

The announcement comes after a coalition of outdoorsy groups — including camping booking site Hipcamp, REI, the Sierra Club and Code for America — said last year that a draft request for proposals for a contractor to manage Recreation.gov did not do enough to promote open data. Last month, the government put out another draft request to address some of the concerns, but it stopped short of requiring the contractor to release an API that would allow third parties to build on the site’s booking data. Recreation.gov has information about 90,000 reservable sites and hosts about 116,000 records.

Fullerton said the impetus for the event was a tourism and travel push that President Barack Obama announced three years ago, but that the idea had also come up during talks with industry following the first draft request.

Meanwhile, he said organizers are reaching out to Code for America as well as D.C.-based developer groups and the General Services Administration’s 18F to generate interest. The hackathon will take place April 11 and 12 at Interior’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.

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data analytics, Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of the Interior, Departments, open data, Tech
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