Default Open Data – For Real This Time

The White House is ushering a new normal when it comes the federal government's data.

The administration's new policy and executive order are the forcing functions to make data accessible and open that has been missing over the last decade.

The Sunlight Foundation's policy director John Wonderlich told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that this move marks a major shift in open data policy.

Why the White House Directive Matters

"The directive is an important development because the way the public gets access to essential government data has changed a lot in the last ten years, it has changed in a way that made the old policies of sharing information obsolete. The White House directive is an expression of political will to prompt OMB to release a new policy," said Wonderlich.  

What's in the Accompanying OMB Memo?

"The memo includes a mandate that agencies have to internally list all their data sets. It also mandates that externally agencies have to list all the data sets they've released publicly and the data sets they could release in the future. By listing everything that could be made public means that we get a new tool to asses how agencies are making decisions about the information they are releasing," said Wonderlich. 

Default Open Data

"By trying to reset the default to open data, it will operationalize the decision. Openness gets built into agency process and planning," said Wonderlich. 

GitHub

"GitHub is a website and repository where people who write code for computers can post it so anyone else can download it. It has become the de facto home of open source code sharing. It can also be used to collaborate on text documents. For example, OMB released their new policies on GitHub. You can request a specific change and really start a new experiment in collaborating over policy."

Explicit Requirements

"The new policy really has explicit language about what openness means for data licensing, standards, timeliness and accuracy. We were one of the more vocal critics when the Digital Government Strategy was released last year because they claimed it reset the default to open but it didn't enforce it. That's why we are excited about this policy because it is as strong as you could expect an open data policy to be from the White House. It is an explicit political and operational commitment. It is not guaranteed to work but it does tackle open data's meaty issues," said Wonderlich. 

One Year From Now

"I will be interested to see if there is in fact new data out there. We will also look at when an agency lists all data that could be available, how the could is being defined. Is there a real audit of data sets being done to make decisions about what gets released and what doesn't. There is a lot of wiggle room there and we hope it is strictly interpreted and created regulation and procedures to work out exactly what that means," said Wonderlich. 

Why Does Open Matter?

"There is an enormous amount of value and substance contained in government data sets that are either poorly released or not released at all. And the reasons the data sets aren't released are often for very complicated reasons like privacy and security. This new order says we are taking these challenges seriously we want to overcome them," said Wonderlich. 

Example of Transparency Success

"A few weeks ago healthcare pricing data was released. It is a good example, because HHS couldn't just released the raw data because of patients privacy concerns they had to do an extraction of existing data sets. They were still able to get transparency information out there without compromising privacy," said Wonderlich. 

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