It’s Time for Agencies to Use and Commercialize Their Data, White House Official Says

White House leaders said opening more government data to the public can kickstart the economy, but agencies must first get a handle on the information at their disposal.

“We almost are paralyzed by ... data we can’t access and use,” Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget and acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, said Wednesday. “It gets my blood boiling to think we have all this data. We should be able to do more with it.”

Most private sector companies view data as critical to success in the 21st century, Weichert said, and it’s time for the government to follow suit. By treating data “as a strategic asset,” agencies stand to improve their own internal processes and give industry the tools to build potentially groundbreaking technologies, she told the audience at the Data Foundation’s Data Transparency conference.

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, which in 2014 mandated agencies organize their spending data in a standard, machine-readable format, remains one of the only governmentwide open data statutes. As agencies struggle to comply with even those basic standards, the Trump administration is looking for ways to help them take advantage of the data at their fingertips.

The White House named leveraging data as a cross-agency priority goal in the President’s Management Agenda, and federal Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent said agencies have already started sharing more data in the months since. To that end, Kent said the White House also amassed a group of 50 government data experts to explore strategies for protecting the quality of federal data and organizing it in a way that most useful for different groups.

The working group plans to publish a list of nearly 190 open data use cases across government and industry sometime this month and release a federal data strategy in early 2019.

The White House is also focusing substantial efforts on strategies for commercializing federal data.

Weichert called government datasets a “powerful” asset that could drive the innovation economy, highlighting the myriad applications and technologies that run on weather data, geospatial intelligence and other information from the federal government.

And because data is “unconstrained by geography,” she said, it could spur growth in parts of the country that have historically struggled in the digital age.

“This set of assets that we have in the form of data can be used in ways that promote economic growth, and we can do this responsibly without compromising privacy, without compromising security,” Weichert said. She added data commercialization will be one of the first two focus areas of the White House’s proposed modernization research center.