The Obama administration promised more transparency and collaboration when it took office exactly four months ago. And yesterday, it started to show what it means.
The White House wants to make about 240,000 different sets of data available to the public over the next month. It took the first step Thursday by launching its Data.gov web site with 46 sets of data in 13 areas from 26 agencies.
Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer, says the idea is to use the public’s expertise, with tools such as mashups, to find new ways to solve the country’s problems.
“The purpose is to keep it simple and to democratize data and have people find value in it,” Kundra says in an interview with FederalNewsRadio. “The first iteration of Data.gov creates a platform to allow the public to give us feedback. There are ways for the public to give us suggestions on what data sets the American people want to see.”
The launch of Data.gov coincided with the White House’s other initiative for more open government. The Office of Science and Technology Policy launched a three phase approach to develop recommendations on how to make the government more transparent.
A message on the White House Web site says the initiative wants citizens to brainstorm, discuss and then draft open government recommendations by June 15.
Between May 21 and May 28, the National Academy of Public Administration will administer the brainstorming. Then on June 3, there will be a Weblog discussion on possible recommendations. And finally on June 15, the White House will sponsor a wiki to draft the recommendations.
Along with this recommendations exercise, the White House launched an Innovations Gallery to feature agency programs that promote transparency and collaboration. Among the initiatives highlighted are Data.gov, Regulations.gov Exchange and Defense Department Techpedia.
Kundra has made Data.gov a priority since he came to the administration.
Casey Coleman, the General Services Administration’s CIO, says the hope is for Data.gov to spur innovation from the public.
GSA submitted procurement and contract award data to the site.
“It’s really about the aggregation of the information and about pulling together from multiple agencies and multiple programs and making it accessible in one place, and the ability to manipulate the data in the aggregate,” Coleman says. “That is what is different and new now.”
Chris Kemp, NASA Ames CIO, adds that Data.gov provides NASA an outlet for its thousands of datasets.
“There has been a lot of data that’s been publicly accessible, but not really publicly available,” he says. “I hope to see mashups occur between public and private data. There are a lot of opportunities as agencies participate more, there are thousands of datasets inside NASA.”
Kundra adds that the CIO Council chose the first data sets based on how easily they could be put online and shared.
“One of our guiding principles is to make sure the data sets are machine readable,” he says. “From some of the data calls we got, we got data in pdf or other data sets that were in proprietary formats and were not readable.”
A presentation given by OMB in March to the Architecture Plus group says agencies submitted 109 potential data sets, of which 98 already were available online. But of those 109, only 26 could be accessed through Web services.
Additionally, the presentation says 49 of those datasets were not classified by risk-low, medium or high.
Kundra says the government has 10,000 systems and there is a lot of data that lives in those networks that is not in the public domain.
He says the CIO Council initially will focus on a handful of areas to get more information on Data.gov, including geospatial, health care, energy and education.
“We want to make sure the FOIA process becomes the last resort not the first resort to access information,” he says.
Kundra says the CIO Council will work with others to enhance the site.
“This is going to be very evolutionary process,” Kundra says. “In the same way we’ve engaged the American people in the open and transparency agenda, we will have set of initiatives around engaging the public, agency CIOs, other government employees, businesses and non-governmental organizations to help us evolve this solution to where have more datasets.”
The Sunlight Foundation already launched a competition, called Apps for America, to see what applications citizens can develop from the information on Data.gov.
“Those types of innovations also will help lead to lower cost of government operations,” he says.
Kundra says he did not know how much the site cost to get it off the ground. He says the administration did ask for money in the fiscal 2010 budget request for Data.gov.
Now with Data.gov underway, Kundra says he wants to improve how the government spends its $76 billion on technology.
“We want to drive greater transparency and accountability about how investments are made and performing to make sure we are holding agency CIOs accountable,” he says.