Open Data: New Federal Policy and Presidential Executive Order

On May 9th, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order on open data, making “open and machine readable” the new default for government information.  The order is supported by a memorandum on Open Data Policy from the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, requiring agencies to “collect or create information in a way that supports downstream information processing and dissemination activities.”

According to the press release from the White House,

The move will make troves of previously inaccessible or unmanageable data easily available to entrepreneurs, researchers, and others who can use those files to generate new products and services, build businesses, and create jobs.

Open-data advocates cheered the move, while acknowledging challenges that still lie ahead.  From the Sunlight Foundation blog:

To be sure, getting agencies to publicly list all their data that can be open will be a significant challenge, even with a high-profile Executive Order. Concerns like cost, privacy, and security will be used to justify non-disclosure (as they often are), and will be used to try to justify keeping even a description of many datasets private. That’s a good struggle to have, though, and one we’re looking forward to.  Without this Executive Order, too many agencies are managing data holdings that they haven’t comprehensively reviewed, without public oversight, while advocates, journalists, and policymakers have an unclear view of what agencies know, and what they could be releasing.

Today’s Executive Order demonstrates a new approach to open data, moving beyond rhetoric and aspiration, requiring agencies to publicly report on what data can be made public, building a new backbone for federal open data policy, and setting an example for other governments to follow.

One site to watch for early fruits of this effort will be Data.gov, the Obama administration’s flagship site for open government data in the United States.

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