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Sunshine Week at the Department of Health and Human Services

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius talks about the open government efforts underway at her department.

Ed. Note: This post is part of our Sunshine Week series on the blog. Sunshine Week is a national initiative to celebrate and focus on government transparency and open government.

Few things are as deeply personal as your health or the health of your loved ones, and few decisions deserve as much attention as those we make in our daily lives to protect our health.  At HHS, our efforts to make government more open have provided many Americans with health information they can use to be well and realize their potential.  We aim to help make our government better, faster, and smarter.

While we have important work yet to be done, Sunshine Week provides an occasion to take stock of the many important projects into which many of our nearly 80,000 employees – working with many of you – have poured their energy and talents over the past year.  I invite you to visit our Open Government website, where we warmly welcome your feedback, ideas, and contributions.

This past year, HHS made significant strides promoting a culture of open government.  Our accomplishments include, for example:

  • Key data sharing initiatives to help all Americans make informed decisions about their health. The Community Health Data Initiative (CHDI) is making vast amounts of useful health-related data easily and publicly available – including community health indicators (e.g., smoking or obesity rates), hospital quality, nursing home quality, and much more. Citizen innovators took this data and quickly developed related applications such as community health maps, tools for finding the best care, and powerful new analytical tools for clinical providers, journalists, and community leaders. This is just one example of how Open Government matters – not in the abstract, but in real life. Our "data liberation" momentum has continued with the launch of our National Library of Medicine Application Programming Interface portal, the HHS Health Indicators Warehouse (a public website with nearly 1,200 indicators of national, state, and local health performance – including many metrics which have never before been made public), and a new Health Data community on serving as a one-stop shop for downloadable health data.
  • Launching tools and applications to foster easy citizen use of health-related data for decision-making. We launched, the first website to provide both public and private health coverage options nationwide in a single, easy-to-use tool for consumers, to widespread acclaim. Users can identify coverage options that are right for them, accessing an enormous amount of data that HHS has collected from insurance companies. Consumers can compare health plans head-to-head based on price, benefits, and other key plan statistics. This is a huge step forward for transparency in the insurance market – transparency that increases competition between insurers and creates better value for consumers. Over 4.7 million visitors have accessed the site since its launch, spending an average of ten minutes per visit. Additionally, we launched the award-winning Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Dashboard, allowing the public to easily view and break down Medicare spending on inpatient hospital services. NIH also developed RSS feeds and a related iPhone app to automatically update companies and individuals on licensing and collaborative research opportunities at NIH and the FDA. 
  • Fostering a culture of Open Government inside HHS to encourage innovation. Our Innovation Council is charged with advancing a culture of innovation and participation across HHS, rewarding and recognizing promising innovations across the agency. To harvest the best ideas for serving Americans from within our agency, employees can nominate and vote on co-worker best ideas. In our first contest, more than 100 teams were nominated, and six innovator teams were acknowledged for their amazing work, including Text4Baby (a mobile health messaging service for mothers and infant health), an innovative new procurement management tracking system, and a new public-private partnership to advance childhood obesity research. More information about the contest can be found at

At HHS, we do not believe that open government is just “one more thing to do.” Rather, it is essential to maximizing the success of health reform implementation, and to keep us all healthy and happy in the long run. We expect continued progress in 2011 and beyond, to further increase the efficiency and effectiveness with which we promote the health and welfare of the American people.

Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of Health and Human Services.