Open Data: Empowering Americans to Make Data-Driven Decisions

Today, students are able to compare the cost of college with other significant data points, such as graduation rates and average salaries of graduates to determine where to get the most bang for their buck. Communities can finally map demographic, income, and school data to promote Fair Housing. Patients can find information on the safety and cost of hospitals, nursing homes, and physicians, empowering them to make smarter health care choices. These diverse tools benefit different groups of people, industries, and communities, yet all rely on one thing: open data.

Open data from the U.S. Government is an important national resource, serving as fuel for innovation and scientific discovery. It is central to a more efficient, transparent, and collaborative democracy. Since President Obama’s first day in office, his commitment to ensuring all Americans reap the benefits of public open data has been unwavering. Throughout the Administration, the U.S. Government has implemented policies to open its data, including:

2015 was a year of great advancement in open data initiatives. Progress on Project Open Data has been growing each year, and is expected to continue as the Administration continues to prioritize open data because of the value returned to society. Federal agencies continue to release and improve their open data for more citizens, non-profits, and companies. You can see how agencies are doing over time, with quarterly evaluations by agency on the Project Open Data Dashboard.

As we look towards the work to be done in 2016, we also celebrate open data milestones and successes over the past year:

  • Chief Data Roles. Central to a data-driven government is committed leadership dedicated to data improvements and comprehensive information management. In 2015 the White House welcomed the first-ever U.S. Chief Data Scientist and Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Data Policy, DJ Patil. In 2015, several Federal Agencies, including the Department of Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency, and General Services Administration, followed suit, adding Chief Data Officers and Chief Data Scientists to their rosters.


President Obama with Chief Technology Officer team members Ryan Panchadsaram and Corinna Zarek, and U.S. Chief Information Officer Tony Scott viewing


  • Website Dashboards. Last year two new dashboards were also created to better evaluate the health of our Federal government websites: tracks how people are interacting with the government online and helps the government and public observe progress on HTTPS and Web Analytics.

One common denominator of these successes is that open data is a collaborative process, involving Federal government, state and local governments, academia, private sectors, and civil society. It takes a village to transform open data into actionable knowledge and societal value. Like data science, open data is a team sport, united by the shared purpose to responsibly unleash the power of data for the benefit of the American public and maximize the nation’s return on its investment in data. Together in 2016 and beyond, “Team Open Data” will continue transforming open data into knowledge, into action.


(Graphic credit: Radhika Bhatt, U.S. Department of Commerce Data Service)


Open data remains a priority in 2016, offering both government and citizens information to make better decisions and a way for Americans to interact with their government. For upcoming events related to open data, please check out the calendar.

Kristen Honey is a Policy Advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
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