[A2k] Senate passes historic endorsement of open government data

Manon Ress manon.ress at keionline.org
Tue Dec 13 09:09:25 PST 2016

Senate passes historic endorsement of open government data
by Alex Howard
 DEC 12, 2016 3:34 PM


Amidst unanswered questions about the future of open government in the
United States, the Senate has provided a unanimous endorsement of a set of
enduring principles that the Sunlight Foundation has advanced and defended
for a decade: that data created using the funds of the people should be
available to the people in open formats online, without cost or restriction.

On Dec. 10, 2016, S.2852, the Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary
(OPEN) Government Data Act, passed the Senate with an amendment by
unanimous consent. The OPEN Government Data Act has been a core priority of
the Sunlight Foundation in Washington in 2016. We are thrilled that the
Senate has acted to move it and grateful to the bill’s co-sponsors for
their support for open government.

“I’m proud to work across the aisle with Senator Schatz to bring a 21st
century solution to this city’s antiquated, 20th century approach to data,”
said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., in a statement. “Because transparency keeps
Washington accountable to the people, government data should be made public
unless an administration makes a compelling reason not to. After passing
the Senate with bipartisan support, we have momentum to carry this
important work into the new year.”

“Public information belongs to the public, and it’s the government’s job to
make sure that data is available and easily accessible in today’s
ever-changing digital world,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in a
statement, “I thank Senator Sasse for working with me to get this through
the Senate, and I look forward to continuing our work in the next Congress.”

The bill requires government data assets to be published as
machine-readable data in an open format that does not limit reuse and
imposes a condition that no costs will be imposed.

In keeping with Sunlight’s years of advocacy, the bill requires the White
House Office of Management and Budget to oversee the completeness and
availability of an enterprise data inventory for every agency. That work is
ongoing today, as everyone in the public can see at the Project Open Data
Dashboard. The OPEN Government Data Act will ensure that the work continues.

This approach to transparency and accountability will not only inform and
enhance public knowledge and apply data to improve society. It will improve
the ability of agencies to understand and use the information assets they
hold. The data breaches and compromises of the past decade show how
important it is for agencies to understand what data they hold and its
sensitivity. That’s why the OPEN Government Data Act’s requirement for the
Chief Information Officers Council to work with the newly strengthened
Office of Government Information Services and the White House Office of
Science and Technology Policy to “promote data operability and
comparability of data assets across the government” is welcome and
essential. So to is the act’s requirement for the White House Office of
Management and Budget to continue to “assess the extent of each federal
agencies use of data assets to support decision-making cost savings and

If enacted and signed into law, these measures would be directly relevant
and useful to advancing the goals of the Evidence-Based Policy Commission
in 2017. We hope that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan sees and values this
connection swiftly to institutionalize this sensible, bipartisan approach
to improving government and governance. Given the Congressional Budget
Office’s assessment of no cost to taxpayers from the OPEN Government Act,
there is strong rationale to get this one.

Given the demand from commercial requesters using the freedom information
act to search for data, we hope and expect that open data from a new
FOIA.gov will be used to prioritize the structuring and disclosure of open
data using the vehicle that the OPEN Government Data Act mandates:
Data.gov. The act would also preserve Data.gov as a public interface for
the nation’s open data, which is in of itself a valuable mandate,
particularly given the site’s improvements and approach to federation.

The OPEN Government Data Act is an essential complement to the Freedom of
Information Act reform that passed this summer. Together, the legislation
would provide statutory structure and mandatory requirements for open and
transparent government in the 21st century.

If passed and implemented, the two laws put in place a series of provisions
and structures that will enable Congress, journalists, nonprofits,
academics, private-sector companies and the public to hold future
administrations accountable. We and our allies know that executive orders
and memorandums can be undone with the stroke of a pen. Sunshine laws
cannot be so easily untangled nor dismissed.

For this reason, we both celebrate the Senate’s unanimous endorsement of
the law and hope that the U.S. House will quickly move to re-introduce the
bill in the 115th Congress and work across the aisle to enact it within the
first week of public business. We will hold Schatz and Sasse to their word
and expect the members of Congress who stood up for open government data
this fall to continue do so. Sunlight stands ready with our allies to hail
congressional support for open government in the 21st century, and to hold
our legislators and official accountable for following through on this

Manon Ress, Ph.D.
Knowledge Ecology International, KEI
manon.ress at keionline.org, tel.: +1 202 332 2670

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