OMB’s Digital Government Strategy: transformative on publication, but silent on standards


Today the Obama Administration released the first Digital Government Strategy, a policy roadmap to improve access to the government’s information, make the government’s IT procurement more efficient, and “ensur[e] that data is open and machine-readable by default.”

Federal data transparency means that the government’s information should be published online using standardized formats. And the Digital Government Strategy promises that comprehensive online publication is on the way:

  • New federal IT systems, the Strategy says, will be “architected for openness.” That means agencies “must evaluate the information contained within these systems for release to other agencies and the public, publish it in a timely manner, make it easily accessible for external use as applicable, and post it at agency.gov/developer in a machine-readable format.”
  • Agencies must plan to transition their existing systems – at least those systems that qualify as “high-value” ones  – to start releasing structured, tagged content through Web APIs.
But the Strategy says very little about the urgent need for the government to mandate standardized data identifiers and common markup languages.

The Strategy merely promises that within six months, the Office of Management and Budget will “work with representatives from across government to develop and publish an open data, content, and web API policy for the Federal Government.” This “open data, content, and web API policy” – a bit of a mouthful – “will leverage central coordination and leadership to develop guidelines, standards, and best practices for improved interoperability.”

Thus, the Digital Government Strategy endorses about half of the concept of federal data transparency: it confirms that the government’s IT systems should all be re-oriented to publish their contents online. But when it comes to data standardization, the Administration has, so far, merely made a plan to make a plan.

  • Will the Administration establish and enforce common identifiers for such concepts as agencies, divisions, offices, and programs, so that spending and performance are visible on an office-by-office and program-by-program basis?
  • Will the Administration encourage Congress and the judicial branch to pursue data transparency for legislative actions and judicial documents?

The Digital Government Strategy does not answer these questions – though it does promise that OMB will develop a future policy on open data, and that future policy might.

As the only trade association pursuing federal data transparency, our Coalition will keep seeking the answers.