OMB’s Digital Government Strategy: transformative on publication, but silent on standards
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.
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 common identifiers and markup languages for federal spending information, and force agencies to use them, so that all grants, contracts, and internal expenditures can easily be searched and aggregated?
- 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 require federal regulatory agencies to collect structured data instead of plain text from regulated industries and to adopt common identifiers so that it’s easy to retrieve information on the same company collected by different regulators?
- Will the Administration pursue standard business reporting?
- 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.