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Obama Administration Signs an Executive Order Making More Raw Data Available to Entrepreneurs

· May 13, 2013

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Last Thursday, the President Obama signed an Executive Order requiring that “the default state of new and modernized Government information resources shall be open and machine readable.”  In a memo elaborating on the President’s order, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) advised federal agencies and executive departments:

Specifically, this Memorandum requires agencies to collect or create information in a way that supports downstream information processing and dissemination activities. This includes using machine­ readable and open formats, data standards, and common core and extensible metadata for all new information creation and collection efforts. It also includes agencies ensuring information stewardship through the use of open licenses and review of information for privacy, confidentiality, security, or other restrictions to release. Additionally, it involves agencies building or modernizing information systems in a way that maximizes interoperability and information accessibility, maintains internal and external data asset inventories, enhances information safeguards, and clarifies information management responsibilities.

This step by the Obama Administration goes beyond the Open Government Directive of the President’s first term, that focused on the release specific datasets.  Now, CIOs of government agencies must consider public accessibility and use of government data from square one.  This sets a new default position of U.S. government data: open, machine readable and accessible to to public (with a key exception: “wherever possible and legally permissible”).

Collecting and storing a wealth of government data in both human and machine readable formats, with attention paid to ease of use and interoperability with common software tools has the potential to change how the federal government operates and promises to make available a wave of new, useful data for our nation’s entrepreneurs and programmers to manipulate and make more useful.  As U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park and Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel point out in a video accompanying the President’s announcement, releasing government information in the past — such as GPS and weather data — has sparked waves of private sector innovation that made government data more useful to everyday citizens.

Also of note, as part of this initiative, the White House has released a new suite of open source software tools (on Github) that federal agencies (or private citizens) can employ to better organize and use the raw data.

Innovation

New technologies are constantly emerging that promise to change our lives for the better. These disruptive technologies give us an increase in choice, make technologies more accessible, make things more affordable, and give consumers a voice. And the pace of innovation has only quickened in recent years, as the Internet has enabled a wave of new, inter-connected devices that have benefited consumers around the world, seemingly in all aspects of their lives. Preserving an innovation-friendly market is, therefore, tantamount not only to businesses but society at large.