If you’ve ever checked the weather forecast or used a digital map, you’re likely among the millions of people who have benefited from U.S. Open Government data.
President Obama has made public access and use of U.S. data a priority from the start of his Administration. Open government data allows innovators and entrepreneurs to use government data to build tools and apps to improve our lives — such as having up-to-the-minute weather access. Open data improves accuracy of government information and allows it to be presented in more user-friendly ways.
U.S. Government works have long belonged to the American public. The Printing Law of 1895 prohibited copyright in government publications. The Bromley Principles, distributed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in 1991 set forth “full and open sharing” of global data as “a fundamental objective.”
Taking open data to the next level, President Obama signed an executive order in May 2013 that made open and machine-readable data the new default for government information. More than one-hundred-thousand government datasets (and growing!) are now posted to the government’s data repository, www.data.gov, supporting businesses, entrepreneurs, and consumers.
Another important step in realizing the promise of open data is making sure that the public knows when it can use this data, with little restriction. Because data maintained by the U.S. Government may sometimes be contributed by a nongovernmental individual or entity, questions arise as to whether the data is truly public. On May 19, the White House OSTP and American University co-hosted the first ever White House Open Data Licensing Jam. Lawyers, policy experts, and developers from agencies, the business sector, and civil society came together to discuss open data licensing issues including terms of service, open licenses, and other policies necessary to build the public’s confidence and ability to use open government data. Government “data” can include not only statistical information, but a wide range of Federal works including educational material and open source software.
At the Jam, we heard about how the Department of Labor is using an innovative policy approach that requires grantees to apply open licenses to the educational materials they produce for powering employment in high-wage, high-skill occupations including digital training modules, instructional games, 3-D simulations, and professional development materials. Grantees make these materials open and reusable to community colleges under the terms of the $2B Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program.
We also heard about how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shares all of its public source code openly, and the benefits the agency has realized, including attracting great technical talent. The Department of Defense shared its Open Source Policy Memorandum that explains how contracting officers should evaluate open source opportunities in the procurement process.
More examples of what agencies have been doing to address open data licensing questions are now posted to Project Open Data, an online, public repository hosted on GitHub to foster collaboration and promote the continual improvement of the Open Data Policy.
Following discussion with the community both on Project Open Data and at the Jam, today the White House submitted the first-ever “pull request” proposing improvements to a U.S. government policy document. The pull request—which is a transparent way of submitting changes to an open source project—seeks to clarify use of open licenses. We hope you’ll share your thoughts and help us improve the policy, which you can do right on the pull request site.
In the coming weeks, policy experts, civil society organizations, and government professionals from the Jam will continue collaborating to address a variety of questions about open licensing. We hope you will join the conversation, including at Project Open Data, and through this dialogue, help advance U.S. Open Government data.
Colleen V. Chien is Senior Advisor to the CTO, Intellectual Property and Innovation, OSTP
Corinna Zarek is Senior Advisor to the CTO, Open Government, OSTP
Haley Van Dyck is Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Information Officer, OMB