Congress wants to turn Obama’s open data actions into law

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A new bill introduced Thursday would give a legislative basis to a number of open data initiatives already underway in the federal government under executive order.

The Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act, introduced by Reps. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, would build upon a number open data policies from the Obama administration that push federal agencies to make as much data as possible free for the public to use. 

A Senate version of the bill will also soon be introduced by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-HI, and Ben Sasse, R-Neb. 

Although initiatives are already underway, executive orders can easily by repealed by future administrations. 

The bill, which FedScoop obtained a draft discussion of, would give a more permanent basis to such practices. It calls on agencies to work with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to create an inventory of all enterprise data, determine what can be released publicly, and post it with open licenses and in machine-readable formats.

Additionally, the bill requires that all the work required to make data available to the public be done with existing resources, and that all new data sets used by agencies open to the public by default.

A number of the bill’s provisions are already underway inside agencies, as part of an executive action unveiled by President Barack Obama in 2013. That order, along with OMB Memorandum M-13-13, has set policy and best practices for agencies regarding their open data practices. Open data, along with open government practices at large, has been a focus of Obama’s since his first day in office.

The groundwork laid by Obama’s executive action has led to a myriad of open data projects, some of which have recently been launched. In the past few weeks, federal agencies have launched open data projects aimed at income equality, examining the gender pay gap and creating a national address database. Additionally, efforts like one from MIT Media Lab and Deloitte build on top of the ocean of data the government has released to the public.

Overall, Data.gov hosts over 195,000 government data sets.

The bill was unveiled at an event Thursday at the Center for Data Innovation, a technology think tank, in Washington, D.C. The group’s director, Daniel Castro, said the bill shows the government is committed to open data practices.

“Congress has previously taken steps to enshrine open data principles in law with the bipartisan DATA Act of 2014, which required agencies to publish federal spending information as open data,” Castro said. “Now, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have an opportunity to work together to ensure open data becomes a permanent responsibility of the federal government.”

The bill also would make a small change inside the Office of Management and Budget, changing the title of the Office of E-Government to Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer. 

Contact the reporter on this story via email at greg.otto@fedscoop.com, or follow him on Twitter at @gregotto. His OTR and PGP info can be found hereSubscribe to the Daily Scoop for stories like this in your inbox every morning by signing up here: fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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data analytics, open data, Tech
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