Federal Advisory Committee Seeks to Promote Value of Government Data

    Aug 11, 2015

    A new advisory committee within the U.S. Department of Commerce met for the second time on July 29 to begin developing recommendations for making the agency’s data more valuable and accessible to individuals and businesses.

    The Commerce Data Advisory Council was established in December 2014 by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to provide recommendations on the agency’s data management practices, including data standards, privacy policies, and external uses.  The Council’s members include experts from information technology companies, non-profit and academic organizations, and local governments that use the demographic, economic, scientific, environmental, patent, and geospatial data produced by the Commerce Department.

    In March 2014, the Department released a five-year strategic plan that covered five key priorities, including a plan for improving government, business, and community decisions and knowledge by transforming the Department’s data capabilities and supporting a data-enabled economy.  To help the Department revolutionize its approach to data, the plan calls for hiring a chief data officer to centralize its data strategy and improve data opera¬≠tions, and the establishment of an advisory committee to tap into the growing field of data experts.

    According to the strategic plan, the Commerce Department collects, stores, and analyzes massive amounts of data related to the nation’s economy, population, and environment, but its capacity to analyze and disseminate this sizable data collection is significantly constrained by differing data standards, methodologies, websites, architectures, platforms, and formats that make it difficult to access and combine datasets.

    “Partnering with the private sector will increase the capacity of the Department to release raw scientific and climate data that cannot be cost-effectively disseminated by the federal government,” the strategy document states.  “Public-private partnerships developing and disseminating data in common standards and architectures could also produce a powerful data platform and more access to public data in usable forms.”

    At the Council’s first meeting on April 23, the group developed a set of objectives that will serve as the foundation for their final recommendations.  One of the 10 objectives includes leveraging private sector assets to improve data quality.  Members of the Council began laying out some of the details of these objectives at their July 29 meeting, where they heard presentations on the Census Bureau’s efforts to improve public access to income distribution measurements, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s roadmap for open data initiatives, and the Commerce Department’s digital economy agenda for 2015.

    According to Ian Kalin, the Commerce Department’s chief data officer, the Council’s final recommendations for improving the Department’s data processes and infrastructure could be a template used across the federal government.  The recommendations are expected to be submitted by the end of 2016.

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