Is the White House trying to blow up an open data bill?

 


President Obama, right, delivers the State of the Union address. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

The case for open data is pretty straightforward: Citizens deserve access to the information created with their tax dollars. Publishing that data in a format that's easy to search, sort and download could unleash a wave of innovation. If the private sector had access to government data it could find new ways to leverage it -- creating new services for consumers and new jobs. Right now, we're a long way from that ideal.

The White House has previously expressed support for open data -- even issuing an executive order and open data policy requiring that data generated by the government in the future be made available in open, machine-readable formats. But a group of for-profit and nonprofit organizations called the Data Transparency Coalition says a leaked Office of Management and Budget version of their biggest legislation initiative, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act or DATA Act, shows the administration trying to water down the legislation.

The DATA Act aims to standardize and publish a wide variety of U.S. government reports and data related to financial management, assistance and procurement. A version of the bill passed the House unanimously in 2012 and again on a vote of 388 to 1 in November 2013. But the bill did not make it to the floor in the Senate. Now Federal News Radio has leaked a document showing that the OMB wants to remove requirements for standardized formats, eliminate a mandate to make all data available from the same source and significantly delay implementation.

"If these revisions are ultimately made to the bill, our Coalition will withdraw its support and will call on other advocates of open government data to do the same," wrote Data Transparency Coalition Executive Director Hudson Hollister in a blog post. Hollister also argued the changes are inconsistent with the White House's previous open data promises. "OMB's proposed revisions to the DATA Act contradict President Obama's policy statements; they ensure that the legislation will not have its intended effect."

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), one of the bill's sponsors,  expressed similar dismay over the mark-up. “The Obama administration talks a lot about transparency, but these comments reflect a clear attempt to gut the DATA Act.," he told FedScoop. "DATA reflects years of bipartisan, bicameral work, and to propose substantial, unproductive changes this late in the game is unacceptable.”

"Senator Warner is a leader on government accountability and transparency, and the Administration recognizes and appreciates his commitment on this important issue," OMB press secretary Frank Benenati said in a statement to The Post in response to a request for comment. "We look forward to working with Senator Warner and Congress on this key matter that will help provide transparency and accountability in a cost-effective way for taxpayers.”

Update: “Chairman Issa strongly agrees with Senator Warner that OMB’s apparent efforts to strip out meaningful transparency reforms from the bipartisan DATA Act are unacceptable,” a spokesperson for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a sponsor of the bill on the House side, told The Post in a statement via e-mail.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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