Occasionally, we publish blog posts, speech transcripts and other commentaries of interest to the Washington Business community. Here is an excerpt from a recent keynote address by Steven VanRoekel, the U.S. government’s chief information officer, to the Bethesda chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. These remarks were taken from a larger discussion about federal budget priorities in the coming year.
When the going gets tough in this country, innovation tends to follow disruption.
Be it a financial crisis, a war or what have you, we tend as a country to step up in those darkest times to innovate. Over 50 percent of the Fortune 500 companies founded in this country started in the worst economic times.
Now we’re climbing our way out of the 2008 financial crisis: There’s positive job growth, a lot of good indicators, the stock market is starting to break records, all the indications are we are headed in the right direction.
So we should look around and ask ourselves, how are we seizing on this moment?
We’re standing at the edge of this inflection point. Are we creating the next Fortune 500 company? Are we driving capabilities and using technologies in our government to do that?
I will claim we as a government are sitting on a treasure trove of incredible opportunity with the data we hold.
If you just go back and look at the time in which the U.S. government opened up weather data or opened up in the mid-1980s the global position system to be a free and open resource, almost overnight you created a $100 billion in yearly economic value in this country.
We sit on that opportunity now.
To that end, we launched initiatives to drive at this. The  digital government strategy is a part of it. It prescribes a policy framework for which we will get agencies to make open data the new default, and you’ll see more of that this year. We also created a presidential innovation fellows program ... challenging innovators to work with the government in a non-conflicted way.
One of the primary things we asked our fellows to do was focus on opening data. [For example] if you go to your favorite search engine and type a drug name — ibuprofen, aspirin and any other drug name — and hit enter, what you’ll see is a bunch of data come up independent of the Web searches, which will give you common names, drug interaction data, symptoms they solve, and other pieces of data all sourced to federal dot.gov Web sites. That’s all fruits of the efforts we’ve put forward to open and unlock government data.
There’s also companies that have been coming on line in recent years focusing completely on government data. BillGuard, Opower, iTriage, all working and building on government data, creating jobs. Tulia and Zillow, two other examples of companies, they went public last summer, building on government data. Really incredible success stories. The steel factories of old are starting to become the data factories of the future.
We have an incredible opportunity, I think, to continue this momentum.
Think about how government data can be folded into what you do to create opportunities and prosperity here.