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White House Roundtable on Open Data

From: Steven Adler <adler1@us.ibm.com>
Date: Thu, 19 Jun 2014 11:34:16 -0400
To: IBM Open Data Group <IBM_Open_Data_Group%IBMUS@us.ibm.com>, public-dwbp-wg <public-dwbp-wg@w3.org>, "betanyc-ibm-smartercities@googlegroups.com&gt &lt" <betanyc-ibm-smartercities@googlegroups.com>
Message-ID: <OF70787F27.FB8BCA6E-ON85257CFC.004E9B09-85257CFC.0055888C@us.ibm.com>
Yesterday, I participated in an excellent Open Data Roundtable/Workshop at 
the White House Conference Center in Washington, DC.  The event was 
organized by the NYU GovLab OpenData500 and sponsored by the US Commerce 
Department and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. 

We were welcomed by Mark Doms, Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic 
Affairs who spoke about the importanance of Open Data is to the economic 
growth of the United States.   At a time, when the IMF and the Federal 
Reserve are forcasting low growth for several years, the US Government is 
looking at Open Data as a vast untapped resource to drive innovation and 
growth in the economy.  Commerce then presented Open Data plans from NOAA, 
Census, the Bureau of Economic Affairs, and the US Patent Office.

We had breakout discussions on six topics and I participated in great 
discussion on GIS data.  We were 9 at my table and we were each asked to 
identify key issues for Commerce Open Data. 

I laid out these issues:

1.  Data Comparability Standards: Open Data is published without 
describing how data is derived or calculated and that makes it difficult 
to compare factors and figures from even within the same agency.

2.  Data Governance Lineage:  The US Government should publish Open Data 
with metadata that describes the governance process behind the publication 
- where the data came from, how long the department had it, how it was 
processed, who signed off on publication.

3.  Display:  Open Data Catalogs are great for developers but the rest of 
the nation finds reading catalogs boring.  The Government needs to provide 
analytical tools that yield insights and make connections between 
datasets.  People can relate to data stories, charts, graphs, and 

4.  Data Sources and Aggregation:  Much Federal Data comes from state and 
local repositories and is aggregated without source file metadata.  The 
Census Bureau, for instance, collects housing starts data from 
municipalities and aggregates that data to provide track-level reports for 
GIS Maps.  What would be better is if every municipality published their 
own housing starts data as Open Data and the Census Bureau provided URI 
Data Links to that data, creating massively federated Linked Data 
infrastructure that minimized errors and omissions by keeping all data at 

5.  Private Public Partnerships... The government sees constrained budgets 
for many years to come and is looking for new revenue models to offset the 
costs of Open Data publishing.  There are many datasets that the 
government could publish that would be highly valuable (like NOAA 
hurricane forecasts) but are also expensive to publish and are outside 
agency missions and goals.  The government was looking for private 
enterprise to pay for this data.

I told the government we are already paying for it through taxes and they 
should not seek revenue recognition for stimulating economic growth with 
Open Data.  It is a national resource that Commerce should provide for 
free to make American business more competitive.  Later I had a discussion 
with the CTO's from NIST, NAO, and Census in which we agreed that Open 
Data publishing would transform government IT by shifting investment from 
a do-it-all strategy that includes infrastructure, data, and application 
development to decreasing focus on applications and increasing focus on 
just publishing the data and letting private enterprise develop 
applications instead.

6.  Model Contracts:  I discussed the issue of license term confusion with 
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and they are keen to 
co-sponsor an event with us in the fall to focus nationwide attention on 
the need for Model Contracts that make Open Data really "Open for 

The day was closed out with some passionate speeches from Bruce Andrews, 
Acting Deputy Secretary of Commerce, and Penny Pritzker, Secretary of 
Commerce.  Bruce quoted Ginni in his comments, which was wonderful, and 
Penny said that Open Data is a key initiative of the Obama Administration 
and a centerpiece of her mission at the Commerce Department.

A lot of the comments during the day gave one the impression that the US 
Government had just discovered that their data is an asset that could 
generate economic value.  I asked the Under Secretary if Commerce would be 
using its economists to calculate the economic value of their data, and he 
answered that they would be providing a report on that topic over the 
Summer.  I spoke to him about it later and he admitted that his economists 
have never thought about this issue before and don't have any great 
insights on how to calculate economic impact of data and that the goal of 
the report is just to get them to research how to do it. 

So this event was kind of a kickoff.  Commerce feels they have some 
valuable data and they want to be seen as leaders within the government. 
The Deputy Secretary told us that the President wants Open Data to be part 
of his legacy - a program that should be so successful at generating 
economic value for the nation that it MUST survive beyond his 

Best Regards,


Motto: "Do First, Think, Do it Again"

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Received on Thursday, 19 June 2014 15:35:42 UTC

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