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Achieving the Data Moon Shot: The Importance of Institutionalizing Open Data

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By Cisco Minthorn, Director of Government Relations and Senior Counsel, Government and Policy Group

The Commerce Data Advisory Council (CDAC) – the federal advisory committee created by U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker in 2014, to convene experts from industry and academia to advise the U.S. Government on how to harness and promote the value of its massive data reserves while protecting privacy and security – met for the fourth time since its inception, on May 5 – 6, 2016, in New York City. Kim Stevenson, Intel’s Chief Information Officer, serves as Co-Chair of the Council.

During the meetings, CDAC members heard presentations from Commerce Data Service (CDS) project teams on initiatives aimed at using government data to increase trade and address income inequality, discussed the prospect of leveraging private sector data to fill in gaps in government data sets, heard a presentation from Betterment CEO Jonathan Stein on how his company is using data resources to make financial advice accessible to everyone, and solicited public feedback on the Council’s work.

From the discussions, two things became clear: 1.) federal data resources, when allowed to be freely accessed by private sector innovators, have the potential to solve some of society’s most pressing problems ; and 2.) that despite all of the work the Department and the CDAC have put into Data initiatives, we are really only at the tip of the iceberg.

At the Council’s inaugural meeting last April, Commerce Chief Data Officer Ian Kalin likened the promise of big data analytics to the Kennedy-Era Space Race. He asked participants at that meeting to consider, “what should be the country’s data moon shot?” Indeed as Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews noted this time around, we are at the beginning of a fourth industrial revolution. In the Digital Economy, data holds tremendous value. But that data cannot be useful if it is not accessible.

Open Government initiatives are at the heart of this transformation in the United States and the Obama Administration deserves credit for leading the charge at making appropriate federal data open, so that every taxpayer has access to resources he or she has already paid for and so that innovators – the people who can use it to create new products, companies, or even whole industries can harness its power. With the end of the Obama Administration in sight, and with the uncertainty that any new administration will bring, institutionalizing these initiatives is key if we are to achieve the data moon shot.

The need to institutionalize open data initiatives has not escaped Congress. Recently, bipartisan, bicameral legislation has been introduced by Senators Schatz (D-HI) and Sasse (R-NE) and Representatives Kilmer (D-WA) and Farenthold (R-TX). The OPEN Government Data Act (S. 2852/H.R. 5051) aims to ensure federal data is, by default, open to the public unless otherwise prohibited by law. The bill also requires federal data to be machine readable and available to the public at Data.gov. Making Open Data a legal requirement will ensure that no matter who takes office in January that the promise of open data remains.

We all stand to benefit from open data. New, more effective treatments to disease, personalized educational resources, economic empowerment, more effective government, and a cleaner environment may be just some of the byproducts of keeping the treasure trove of open federal data unlocked. Intel encourages Congress to make sure open data initiatives continue.