What Does the OPEN Government Data Act Mean for U.S. Citizens?


Bryan Jones

Date Published:
October 27, 2016

The OPEN (Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary) Government Data Act, or S.2852, as stated in a Data Coalition press release “directs all federal agencies to publish their information as machine-readable data, using searchable formats.”  Essentially this means government data would be open, by default, for use or reuse by the public, the private sector, non-profits or other government agencies.  For those providing analytics consulting services to government agencies this data transparency is very good news but what is the reality for implementation if this act is signed into law?

Excitement over the possibility of open government data is tempered somewhat due to the pace at which governments traditionally move and language in the act allowing agencies to protect their data “for privacy, security, confidentiality, or regulatory reasons.”  While such protections are necessary there will no doubt be conflicting interpretations leading to possible data sharing barriers and reduced data transparency.

What could happen if federal, state, and local government data becomes standardized, open, and accessible to all?  Fortunately we don’t have to wonder.  Elder Research was honored to be invited by the Data Society to attend the “Opportunity Project White House Demos” on October 6, 2016. The Opportunity Project was launched to “spur the creation of digital tools that use Federal open data to help families and communities navigate information about critical resources such as quality housing, schools, jobs and transportation.”

Twenty-nine new digital tools were created by public and private partnerships using data sets shared by the Departments of Labor (DOL), Transportation (DOT), Education(DOE), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Agriculture (USDA), and the Veterans Administration (VA).  A sample of the amazing analytics tools that were demonstrated enabled users to:

  • Visualize hazardous traffic corridors by local officials using traffic accident and fatality data
  • Understand commuter traffic flow between zip codes and highlight locations without access to transit
  • Combat diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity by combining Fitbit data with data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
  • Find answers to questions regarding food access, housing overcrowding, and economic security
  • Match their individual job skills to the jobs in their area that provide the greatest opportunity for personal and professional success
  • Search and find affordable housing and amenities and enable users to rent spare rooms to help cover costs

s demonstrated can be found at the opportunity.census.gov website.

While legislative and policy changes to make open data the default setting in government have been slow to progress, there is growing momentum to make this a reality.  The OPEN Government Data Act and The Opportunity Project are evidence that these changes are necessary, can produce value, and will ultimately happen.  As exciting as this all sounds consider how much more value analytics solutions will bring beyond simply merging disparate data sets and presenting understandable information.  With accessible advanced analytics, all citizens will have the ability to know what happened, why it happened, what will happen in the future, and how we can make it happen— relying less on what we are told and more on what we know—based on accessible data-driven knowledge.

Does this idea sound familiar? (Hint: …government of the people, by the people, for the people….)

Elder Research has extensive analytics consulting experience helping government agencies create custom analytics solutions to meet challenging goals and develop processes to institutionalize analytics-based decision management.

About the Author

Director and Program Manager Bryan Jones is a former federal government employee with over 31 years of experience successfully managing and leading programs and people. Bryan’s focus is to translate the value of analytics and develop an analytics business strategy for government agencies and commercial business operations. Prior to joining Elder Research, Bryan was the Deputy Assistant Inspector General for the U.S. Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General where he developed their first data analytics unit. This is where he discovered his passion: the combining of business knowledge with the technology and science of data mining to help transform the way government does business. Bryan’s education is as diverse as his career with his latest studies in leadership and management coming from the Lincoln Leadership Institute and the University of Mary Washington.