Right before the end of the year, on December 21, 2018 the U.S. Congress passed The Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary Government Act (also known as the OPEN Government Data Act), an act designed to break down information silos in the federal government, transforming inaccessible documents into open and usable data.
The OPEN Government Act also has the potential to foster further legislation in support of transparency and should encourage open data use in both the public and private sectors.
The act stipulates that many of the major federal agencies will need to ensure that public data assets are “machine-readable” and will need to be published with an open license, i.e. without usage restrictions. Furthermore, it will be the responsibility of impacted agencies to actively promote and encourage usage and uptake of their open data.
Like all good open data policies, the act acknowledges that open should be the default, but there are plenty of appropriate exceptions. According to the OPEN Government Data Act, the head of an agency can use criteria to determine whether a particular asset should be made openly-accessible, taking into account risks such as privacy and confidentiality. For instance, a data asset could be restricted if it might pose a privacy or confidentiality risk to an individual or if a data asset contains confidential business information.
Some specific details of the bill and its implications for federal agencies:
- Federal agencies must publish their data online;
- Federal agencies must publish data using a machine-readable format;
- Federal agencies must utilize open data to aid in decision making or potentially immerse themselves into a legal quagmire;
- Federal agencies must develop and maintain a comprehensive data inventory;
- The “Federal data catalogue” will be created for all agencies to submit their public data assets or links to public data assets for publication and public availability;
- Continued oversight must be exhibited to promote accountability;
- Data must be made open (by default) under an open license and with no restrictions on copying, publishing, distributing, transmitting, citing, or adapting;
- An online repository of tools, best practices, and schema standards to facilitate the adoption of open data practices across the Federal Government will be developed.
We’re thrilled to see the United States government moving forward by implementing an “Open Government” model that supports open data, open licensing, machine readability, and open formats. The OPEN Government Data Act is part of the larger H.R.4174 Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2017 and is now on its way to the President’s desk for a final signature.