In the United States, there are two bills making their way through Congress that would require all government data to be made available in open and machine readable formats by default. The OPEN Government Data Act has been introduced in both the House of Representatives (H.R. 1770) and the Senate (S. 760). The bill would ensure that federal government data is “open, available, discoverable, and usable to the general public, businesses, journalists, [and] academics.” The legislation would codify the Obama administration’s 2013 Executive Order.
First and foremost, this legislation would institutionalize the federal government’s commitment to open data and allow the United States to remain a world leader on open data. Second, adopting a policy of open by default for government data would ensure that the value of this public resource would continue to grow as the government unlocks and creates new data sets. Third, a firm commitment to providing open data as a public resource would encourage businesses, non-profits, and others to invest in innovative tools that make use of government data. And, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s review of the 2016 unanimously passed Senate bill, taking these steps would not have a significant impact on agency spending.
Another bill—the Preserving Data in Government Act of 2017 (S. 960)—has been introduced in the Senate. Similar to the OPEN Government Data Act, this bill acknowledges the importance of publishing data in open and machine readable formats. It focuses on ensuring that federal government data sets be adequately preserved for long term access and use.
The introduction of the bills are a breath of fresh air within a political environment that has jeopardized access to government data on topics such as climate change. The bipartisan support for this legislation demonstrates that sharing publicly-funded data under open licenses and in machine readable formats can be an important tool to improve access and reuse of data for both the public and private sectors.