May 23, 2012

OMB's Digital Government Strategy: transformative on publication, but silent on standards

Today the Obama Administration released the first Digital Government Strategy, a policy roadmap to improve access to the government's information, make the government's IT procurement more efficient, and "ensur[e] that data is open and machine-readable by default."

Federal data transparency means that the government's information should be published online using standardized formats. And the Digital Government Strategy promises that comprehensive online publication is on the way:
  • New federal IT systems, the Strategy says, will be "architected for openness." That means agencies "must evaluate the information contained within these systems for release to other agencies and the public, publish it in a timely manner, make it easily accessible for external use as applicable, and post it at in a machine-readable format."
  • Agencies must plan to transition their existing systems - at least those systems that qualify as "high-value" ones  - to start releasing structured, tagged content through Web APIs.
But the Strategy says very little about the urgent need for the government to mandate standardized data identifiers and common markup languages.

The Strategy merely promises that within six months, the Office of Management and Budget will "work with representatives from across government to develop and publish an open data, content, and web API policy for the Federal Government." This "open data, content, and web API policy" - a bit of a mouthful - "will leverage central coordination and leadership to develop guidelines, standards, and best practices for improved interoperability."

Thus, the Digital Government Strategy endorses about half of the concept of federal data transparency: it confirms that the government's IT systems should all be re-oriented to publish their contents online. But when it comes to data standardization, the Administration has, so far, merely made a plan to make a plan.
  • Will the Administration encourage Congress and the judicial branch to pursue data transparency for legislative actions and judicial documents?
The Digital Government Strategy does not answer these questions - though it does promise that OMB will develop a future policy on open data, and that future policy might.

As the only trade association pursuing federal data transparency, our Coalition will keep seeking the answers.

May 14, 2012

Inspectors general: Pass the DATA Act!

On May 10, the House Oversight Committee held a hearing on vacancies in inspector general positions throughout the executive branch. After discussing the vacancy issue, Rep. Jackie Speier broached a broader topic: how can Congress better empower inspectors general to find and unmask waste, fraud, and abuse?

Rep. Speier asked Phyllis Fong, chair of the Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency, "What additional powers should we give you?"

Inspector General Fong responded:

The DATA Act, as passed by the House of Representatives in April, will make the work of inspectors general easier by streamlining regulatory requirements (secs. 302, 303) and fixing inconsistencies in existing laws (sec. 307). The DATA Act will also establish a government-wide accountability portal (sec. 3613) that will help inspectors general find waste and fraud.
Welcome to the official mouthpiece of the Data Transparency Coalition.