New law to make more government data available

A widely supported piece of legislation that will make it easier to access federal government data was signed into law by President Trump last week.

The Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act requires federal agencies to publish all public, non-sensitive data in a “machine-readable” and standardized format – one easily processed by computers – and to catalog that data in a uniform way.

“This is making sure that people have access to knowledge that their taxpayer dollars paid for,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director for Demand Progress, an open internet advocacy group that supports the legislation.

Some government agencies, like the National Weather Service and the Census Bureau, already regularly publish large quantities of data, Schuman said.

The legislation will bring other agencies in line with similar requirements.

“There was never a sort of government-wide mandate that would get all agencies on the same page,” said Jessica Yabsley with the Data Coalition, an open-data trade organization that has pushed for the legislation since 2015. “That’s really key. It’s not a siloed effort.”

The OPEN Government Data Act was originally introduced in early 2017, but was made a part of the larger Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act sponsored by former House Speaker Paul Ryan later that year.

The new law will also make it easier to access government datasets using smartphones and other mobile devices.

OPEN was sponsored by U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Ben Sasse, R-Neb.

The legislation enjoyed unanimous consent in the U.S. Senate, including Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, at the Dec. 19 vote.

Rep. Ben-Ray Luján and then-Rep. Steve Pearce also supported the measure. Then-Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham did not vote.

“Public data has the power to spark new business ideas, improve people’s quality of life, and unleash potential for our brightest scientists and engineers,” Luján said in an emailed statement. “By ensuring that public data is listed in an easy to use place, this legislation will improve transparency and give local entrepreneurs new tools to unlock innovation.”

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