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22nd December marked a win for U.S. government in terms of efficiency, accountability, and transparency of open data. Following the Senate vote held on 19th December, Congress passed the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking (FEBP) Act (H.R. 4174, S. 2046). Title II of this package is the Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act, which requires all non-sensitive government data to be made available in open and machine-readable formats by default.

The federal government possesses a huge amount of public data which should ideally be used to improve government services and promote private sector innovation. According to Data Coalition, “the open data proposal will mandate that federal agencies publish their information online, using machine-readable data formats”.

What does the bill mandate?

There are a number of practical things the bill will do, which should have real benefits for both citizens and federal organizations:

  • Makes Federal data more accessible to the public, and requires all agencies to publish an inventory of all their “data assets”
  • Encourages government organizations to use data to make decisions
  • Ensuring better data governance by requiring Chief Data Officers in Federal agencies

After some minor corrections made on Saturday, December 22nd, the Senate passed the resolution required to send the bill onwards to the president’s desk.

There are two things which were amended in this act before passing it on to the president:

  1. The text was amended so that it only applied to CFO Act agencies, not the Federal Reserve or smaller agencies.
  2. There was acarve-out “for data that does not concern monetary policy,” which relates to the Federal Reserve, among others.

Why is the open data proposal required?

For many years, businesses, journalists, academics, civil society groups, and even other government agencies have relied on data that the federal government makes freely available in open formats online. However, while many federal government agencies publish open data, there has never been a law mandating the federal government to do so. The data available in a machine-readable format and catalogued online will help individuals, organizations, and other government offices to use it while preserving privacy and national security concerns.

Open data has been an effective platform for innovation in the public sectors supporting significant economic value while increasing transparency, efficiency, and accountability in government operations. It has worked towards powering new tools and services to address some of the country’s most pressing economic and social challenges.

Michele Jolin, CEO and co-founder of Results for America, said in a statement. “We commend Speaker Ryan, Senator Murray and their bipartisan colleagues in both chambers for advancing legislation that will help build evidence about the federally-funded practices, policies and programs that deliver the best outcomes. By ensuring that each federal agency has an evaluation officer, an evaluation policy and evidence-building plans, we can maximize the impact of public investments.

U.S Citizens also called this bill a big ‘milestone’ in the history of the country and accepted the news with vigor.

You can read the entire backstory on what’s in the bill and how it was passed at E Pluribus Unum.

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