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Dear Congress: Save open data

Joshua New | Sept. 18, 2015
Congress should act so that the successful and popular open data initiatives will continue after a new president is sworn in in 2017.

Third, Congress should direct agencies to take the necessary precautions to ensure that particularly valuable data sets remain available in the event of a government shutdown or sequestration. Open data is frequently used to protect the public’s safety and property, such as helping health officials prepare for flu season or disseminating information on car recall notices — critical functions that agencies should recognize constitute excepted activities under the Antideficiency Act and should thus remain operational during a shutdown.. But given that open data is a relatively new phenomenon in government, it remains to be seen if these high value datasets will stay live during the next shutdown. Congress should also ensure that government employees do not go out of their way to unnecessarily pull the plug on the sites and tools that support open data in preparation.

Finally, Congress should require that open data policies apply to all agencies, including independent agencies, such as the U.S. Postal Service and the Social Security Administration, as well as quasi-official agencies, such as the Smithsonian Institution and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. President Obama’s 2013 executive order requested that independent agencies adhere to the same requirements, but since they are not subject to presidential directives, they are not currently required to deliver open data.

In this era of divisive politics, Congress should not miss an opportunity to seize onto and expand an area of bipartisan agreement, especially one with such value to the economy, government and society. Members of Congress should build on today’s open data successes and make a binding commitment for the future.


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